Hackers Sentenced for Manipulating Taxi Dispatch System at JFK Airport

The U.S. Department of Justice has announced the sentencing of two computer hackers, Daniel Abayev and Peter Leyman, both U.S. citizens, for colluding with Russian cybercriminals to hack the electronic taxi dispatch system at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK).

Between September 2019 and September 2021, Abayev and Leyman routinely hacked into and manipulated the airport’s electronic taxi dispatch system. This system ensures the orderly dispatch of taxis to prevent traffic congestion and chaos. By manipulating the system, the hackers facilitated certain taxis jumping to the front of the line in exchange for payment, disrupting fair order and impacting taxi professionals.

The hackers collaborated with Russian counterparts to execute various hacking methods, including inserting malware-laden flash drives into computers connected to the dispatch system, unauthorized access via Wi-Fi connections, and stealing computer tablets linked to the system. They charged taxi drivers $10 for advancing them to the front of the line and transferred profits to Russian hackers Aleksandr Derebenetc and Kirill Shipulin.

To evade detection, the hackers sent messages to taxi drivers on how to avoid law enforcement. Following a thorough investigation, the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of New York sentenced Abayev to four years in prison and Leyman to two years, along with three years of supervised release. Additionally, they were ordered to pay $161,858.26 in forfeiture and $3,456,169.50 in restitution.

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams emphasized the serious threat cyber hacking poses to critical infrastructure, noting that the defendants’ actions enabled up to 1,000 fraudulent taxi trips daily. Through collaborative efforts with law enforcement, the scheme was dismantled, and the defendants received appropriate sentences.

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