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…
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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.”
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?