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Two Russian Nationals Charged For Conspiring To Hack The Taxi Dispatch System At JFK Airport

Both American Hackers in Scheme Also Plead Guilty

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 (the “Port Authority”), announced the unsealing of an Indictment charging ALEKSANDR DEREBENETC, a/k/a “Sasha Novgorod,” and KIRILL SHIPULIN, a/k/a “Kirill Russia,” with two counts of conspiracy to commit computer intrusions. The Indictment charges that DEREBENETC and SHIPULIN hacked the electronic taxi dispatch system (the “Dispatch System”) at John F. Kennedy International Airport (“JFK”). Taxi drivers are required to wait in a holding lot at JFK before they are dispatched to pick up a fare. A computer system ensures that taxis are dispatched in the order in which they arrived. DEREBENETC and SHIPULIN conspired with DANIEL ABAYEV and PETER LEYMAN to hack the Dispatch System and move certain taxis to the front of the line in exchange for payment. ABAYEV pled guilty today to one count of conspiracy to commit computer intrusions, and LEYMAN pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit computer intrusions on October 4, 2023.

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: “As alleged in the indictment, these four defendants conspired to hack into the taxi dispatch system at JFK airport. Cyber hacking can pose grave threats to infrastructure systems that we rely on every day, and our Office is dedicated to pursuing criminal hackers, whether they be in Russia or here in New York.”

Port Authority Inspector General John Gay said: “The significant charges in this alleged hacking conspiracy show that the Port Authority takes seriously our obligation to safe and equitable operations across our facilities. As alleged, this brazen scheme corrupted a system that hard-working taxi drivers rely on to earn a living, all so the defendants could make some extra cash. We are grateful for our partnership with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.” As alleged in the Indictment:[1] From at least September 2019 through September 2021, DEREBENETC and SHIPULIN, who are Russian nationals residing in Russia, and ABAYEV and LEYMAN, who are U.S. citizens residing in Queens, New York, engaged in a scheme (the “Hacking Scheme”) to hack the Dispatch System at JFK. At all relevant times, taxi drivers who sought to pick up a fare at JFK were required to wait in a holding lot at JFK before being dispatched to a specific terminal by the Dispatch System. Taxi drivers were frequently required to wait several hours in the lot before being dispatched to a terminal and were dispatched in approximately the order in which they arrived at the holding lot. Beginning in 2019, DEREBENETC, SHIPULIN, ABAYEV, and LEYMAN explored and attempted various mechanisms 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. The members of the Hacking Scheme also sent messages to each other in which they explicitly discussed their intention to hack the Dispatch System. For example, on or about November 10, 2019, ABAYEV messaged the following to DEREBENETC in Russian: “I know that the Pentagon is being hacked[.]. So, can’t we hack the taxi industry[?]”

At various times between November 2019 and November 2020, DEREBENETC, SHIPULIN, ABAYEV, and LEYMAN successfully hacked the Dispatch System. They used their unauthorized access to alter the Dispatch System and move specific taxis to the front of the line, thereby allowing drivers of those taxis to skip other taxi drivers waiting in the line. ABAYEV and LEYMAN charged taxi drivers $10 each time they were advanced to the front of the line and transferred part of their profits to SHIPULIN and DEREBENETC. ABAYEV and LEYMAN’s scheme resulted in large numbers of taxi drivers skipping the taxi line. Over the course of the scheme, they enabled as many as 1,000 fraudulently expedited taxi trips a day.

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DEREBENETC, 30, of Nizhniy Novgorod, Russia, and SHIPULIN, 30, of Moscow, Russia, are each charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion. The charges carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. ABAYEV, 47, and LEYMAN, 49, both of Queens, New York, each pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. The maximum potential sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants will be determined by a judge. LEYMAN is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Crotty on January 11, 2024, at 2:30 p.m., and ABAYEV is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Crotty on February 12, 2024, at 3:00 p.m. DEREBENETC and SHIPULIN remain at large. Mr. Williams praised the outstanding work of the Port Authority Office of the Inspector General. Mr. Williams also thanked Homeland Security Investigations for their assistance in the investigation. The case is being prosecuted by the Office’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kevin Mead and Steven J. Kochevar are in charge of the prosecution. The charges contained in the Indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. [1] As the introductory phrase signifies, the entirety of the text of the Indictment and the description of the Indictment set forth herein constitutes only allegations, and every fact described therein should be treated as an allegation.

ContactNicholas Biase (212) 637-2600

Updated October 30, 2023

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