Wow: JFK Airport Taxi Dispatch System Was Hacked In For-Profit Scheme

Wow: JFK Airport Taxi Dispatch System Was Hacked In For-Profit Scheme

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Two men have been arrested for conspiring with Russian nationals to hack the taxi dispatch system at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK). This is sort of fascinating…

Hackers charged taxi drivers for cutting line

Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and John Gay, the Inspector General of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, have just announced the unsealing of an indictment charging Daniel Abayev and Peter Leyman with two counts of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion.

Specifically, the pair hacked the electronic taxi dispatch system at JFK Airport, and then profited off of it. Taxi drivers are required to wait in a holding lot at JFK before they are dispatched to a specific terminal to pick up a fare. This wait can often be several hours. A computer system is supposed to ensure that taxis are dispatched in the order in which they arrive.

Between September 2019 and September 2021, the two men (who are US citizens) conspired with Russian nationals to hack the dispatch system and move certain taxis to the front of the line, in exchange for a payment.

They tried a variety of techniques to access the dispatch system, including bribing someone to insert a flash drive containing malware into computers connected to the dispatch system, obtaining unauthorized access to the dispatch system via a Wi-Fi connection, and stealing computer tablets connected to the dispatch system.

Once the system was hacked, the pair would charge taxi drivers $10 each time to jump to the front of the line. Through word of mouth, taxi drivers learned that they could skip the line with a $10 payment. Alternatively, taxi drivers could get the fee waived if they recruited others to the scheme.

The hacking scheme used large group chats to communicate with taxi drivers. When the hacking scheme had access to the dispatch system, a member would write “shop open.” When the system was hacked, up to 1,000 expedited trips would be booked per day, which would equate to up to $10,000 in daily revenue.

Taxi drivers were also sent messages instructing them on how to avoid detection by law enforcement when using trips purchased from the hacking scheme, like the following:

DEAR  DRIVERS  !!!! PLEASE !!!!

Do not wait at the gas station in JFK

Please do not go around the CTH [Central Taxi Hold] Lot 

Please do not wait at Rockway av 

You have to be very very carefully

Hackers could face up to 10 years in prison

The two men behind this scheme were arrested this morning, and are being presented before a judge today. The charge of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison (though it’s pretty unlikely that they’ll get that).

Here’s how US Attorney Damian Williams describes this case:

“As alleged in the indictment, these two defendants — with the help of Russian hackers — took the Port Authority for a ride. For years, the defendants’ hacking kept honest cab drivers from being able to pick up fares at JFK in the order in which they arrived. Now, thanks to this Office’s teamwork with the Port Authority, these defendants are facing serious criminal charges for their alleged cybercrimes.”

Meanwhile here’s how Port Authority Inspector General John Gay describes this case:

“This sophisticated, internationally coordinated conspiracy allegedly targeted hard-working taxi drivers trying to earn an honest living. The Port Authority has zero tolerance for bad actors violating the law at our facilities. We thank Damian Williams and the Southern District for their partnership as we continue our relentless commitment to detecting and disrupting illegal behavior at our facilities across the region.”

Bottom line

Two men have been arrested for conspiring with Russian nationals to hack the taxi dispatch system at JFK. With this scheme, they’d charge drivers $10 per trip to get priority pick-ups, and they’d do this for up to 1,000 people per day.

Taxi drivers in New York have it tough enough nowadays, given the competition from ridesharing apps, and how much they paid for their medallions. It’s a shame that some people would even further harm those playing by the rules.

What do you make of this taxi dispatch scheme?

Conversations (22)
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  1. EnviroBK Guest

    For me, taking the subway in NYC bypasses the taxi hassle. It goes almost everywhere, it’s usually quicker, and it’s less than a cab. When a subway isn’t available in other cities, I’ve had hassles with drivers not wanting credit cards (or billing them twice), refusing a fare if the trip is too shore, not showing up, or arriving in a filthy vehicle. Uber or Lyft have fewer of these problems, but they sometimes don’t...

    For me, taking the subway in NYC bypasses the taxi hassle. It goes almost everywhere, it’s usually quicker, and it’s less than a cab. When a subway isn’t available in other cities, I’ve had hassles with drivers not wanting credit cards (or billing them twice), refusing a fare if the trip is too shore, not showing up, or arriving in a filthy vehicle. Uber or Lyft have fewer of these problems, but they sometimes don’t show up or arrive later than expected. Wish more cities had subways/trains like they have in Europe, but that’s a very long term solution. Finally, I have spent lots of time in NY and of course not everything is corrupt. No more than in any other American city.

  2. Jkjkjk Guest

    It’s USA what do you expect? The greatest country on planet earth. ‍♂️

  3. frrp Gold

    Corrupt taxi drivers. Shocking.

  4. D3kingg Guest

    I know both of them they are ex Uber mafia from LA.

    Should I call NY port authority and help them with the case ? No , I would never rat on my fellow comrades.

  5. Lune Guest

    The question you have to ask is: why did it get computerized in the first place? My strong suspicion is that the answer is because manual dispatchers also took bribes to move cabs up the line.

    IOW, it's always been this way. Same as slipping a doorman $20 to get a taxi quick when there's a line, or the maitre'd at a restaurant to get a good table.

    I think the real question is, if...

    The question you have to ask is: why did it get computerized in the first place? My strong suspicion is that the answer is because manual dispatchers also took bribes to move cabs up the line.

    IOW, it's always been this way. Same as slipping a doorman $20 to get a taxi quick when there's a line, or the maitre'd at a restaurant to get a good table.

    I think the real question is, if there are cabs waiting hours in the hold area, why are there still lines to get a cab at the terminal?? Cabs waiting, customers waiting, doesn't make sense. Why not proactively dispatch taxis to the terminals so no one waits? That way customers don't wait and taxis wait shorter times.

  6. Donato Guest

    In my opinion the taxi situation at JFK was always corrupt. I remember arriving off a grueling TATL flight, waiting in que for a yellow and getting in. The ride did not meet the goals and aspirations of the driver so he told me to get out. I was physically encouraged to vacate and I did. I waited one hour for port Authority Police. The police at first told me to get into another taxi....

    In my opinion the taxi situation at JFK was always corrupt. I remember arriving off a grueling TATL flight, waiting in que for a yellow and getting in. The ride did not meet the goals and aspirations of the driver so he told me to get out. I was physically encouraged to vacate and I did. I waited one hour for port Authority Police. The police at first told me to get into another taxi. I did ultimately file a complaint with the TLC which has jurisdiction, it ended up going no place. They are all in the racket and let them all rot.

  7. Tim Dunn Diamond

    Ending this scheme could alter the outcome of the war w/ Ukraine.

  8. NSS Guest

    And still the cab line at T4 in the evenings moves slower than a snail in molasses.

  9. NedsKid Member

    The Port Authority is just mad they didn't think of it first.

  10. Cam Member

    I live in NYC and had never heard of this taxi dispatch system. It seems completely insane? Yellow Cabs charge a flat $52 to go from JFK to Manhattan (where I'd guess 65-70% of trips are bound), plus tolls and tip. Waiting hours for a $52 fare seems insane to me, since you can easily have a fare that gets that high on a non flat-rate route without having to wait hours.

    1. Santos Guest

      This is how it’s always worked, even before it was computerized. Yellow cabs can’t just roll up to the arrivals curb and pick up a fare. There’s always been a holding lot and a system. And ever since Uber and Lyft, it’s a lot harder for yellow cabs to find fares on the street. I remember when you used to have to practically fist fight someone for a cab home on Friday evening in midtown. Now there are dozens of available taxis even at rush hour.

    2. JB Guest

      I lived in NYC and didn't know about this either until now. But whenever I would arrive at JFK, you always have to go to a taxi stand where they request a taxi for you. It then takes some time for it to arrive. I believe LGA has a similar system as well. You cannot just jump in one that is already there. I always thought that was odd, so reading this makes sense now....

      I lived in NYC and didn't know about this either until now. But whenever I would arrive at JFK, you always have to go to a taxi stand where they request a taxi for you. It then takes some time for it to arrive. I believe LGA has a similar system as well. You cannot just jump in one that is already there. I always thought that was odd, so reading this makes sense now. But this was one of the reasons I would just book an Uber instead if I was in a rush (and the price was similar).

  11. Steve Diamond

    I remember when Lyft first came to my town around 2014 and taxi drivers would take baseball bats to the lyft drivers cars because they were easy to spot with the pink mustaches on the hood. Taxis are the worst. For a shceme to get this big everyone had to know about it why didnt someone inform authorities earlier.

    1. LarryInNYC Diamond

      There's no information in the article about how long the scheme operated for. They were working on it for a couple of years but it may only have been in use for weeks.

    1. LEGALIZE ALL DRUGS Guest

      This is a dog whistled antisemitic comment.

    2. Mano Guest

      It is arrogant to believe that any one demographic group can lay claim to a place as diverse as NYC.

    3. Ocean Guest

      Indeed everything is corrupt in NYC.

  12. Never In Doubt Guest

    That’s just good, old fashioned, American (plus Russian) ingenuity!

Featured Comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

ML Guest

Russia is involved. Shocking.

3
rjb Guest

Everything is corrupt in NYC.

3
Steve Diamond

I remember when Lyft first came to my town around 2014 and taxi drivers would take baseball bats to the lyft drivers cars because they were easy to spot with the pink mustaches on the hood. Taxis are the worst. For a shceme to get this big everyone had to know about it why didnt someone inform authorities earlier.

2
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