Two US citizens have been arrested and charged with conspiring with Russian nationals to hack into the taxi dispatch system at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), charging taxi drivers a $10 fee between September 2019 and September 2021 to access get to the front of the row.
Daniel Abayev and Peter Leyman (both 48 and from Queens, New York) first successfully hacked the shipping system in 2019 with the help of unnamed Russian nationals, according to a DOJ charge filed in the Southern District of New York. Leyman and Abayev have been given access to the system to move specific taxis to the front of the queue, the DOJ says, charging drivers a $10 fee for the privilege. Members of the hacking program also offered to waive the $10 fee in exchange for recruiting more taxi drivers.
The JFK taxi dispatch system ensures a fair working environment for taxi drivers, but can lead to long wait times between rides
The computer-controlled JFK taxi dispatch system manages how taxis are dispatched between the airport’s parking lot and terminal. The system was introduced to create a fair working environment, but waiting times of several hours can affect a taxi driver’s daily earnings.
The hackers used group chats to communicate with taxi drivers and advise them on how to avoid detection by law enforcement. According to the indictment, Leyman and Abayev approved as many as 1,000 rides a day and transferred at least $100,000 to the hackers in Russia as “payment for software development”.
Prosecutors allege the pair investigated several ways to hack into the system, including bribing someone to infect their computers with malware via a flash drive, stealing connected computer tablets, and accessing the transmission system without permission via Wi-Fi. The indictment alleges that members of the hacking scheme also sent messages to each other explicitly discussing their intention to hack into the dispatch system. “I know the Pentagon is being hacked[.]. So can’t we hack the taxi industry?[?]Abayev sent a message to a Russian conspirator in November 2019.
Both men face up to 10 years in prison if found guilty of their alleged cyber crimes
“For years, the defendants’ hacking kept honest taxi drivers from paying at JFK in the order they arrived,” US attorney Damian Williams said in a statement. “Now, thanks to this Bureau’s teamwork with the Port Authority, these defendants face serious criminal charges for their alleged cybercrime.”
Both men have been charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit computer burglary, which carry a maximum prison term of 10 years if proven guilty.