Two American citizens allegedly worked with Russian nationals in order to hack John F. Kennedy International Airport's taxi dispatch system.
The charges were announced in an unsealed indictment on Tuesday, alleging that both Daniel Abayev and Peter Leyman worked with Russian nationals to hack the taxi dispatch system and charge taxi drivers in exchange for moving them to the front of the airport line to pick up customers.
Abayev and Leyman were allegedly engaged in the hacking scheme from at least September 2019 through September 2021.
Typically, taxi drivers are required to "in a holding lot at JFK before being dispatched to a specific terminal by the Dispatch System." The wait times are usually several hours before taxi drivers are dispatched to a terminal, which is determined by the order in which the vehicle arrived to the holding lot.
Travellers take taxi at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, the United States, Nov. 8, 2021. (Wang Ying/Xinhua via Getty Images / Getty Images)
The two New York City residents "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," according to the indictment.
"I know that the Pentagon is being hacked[.]. So, can’t we hack the taxi industry[?]," Abayev allegedly messaged one of the Russian hackers.
Between November 2019 and November 2020, Abayev and Leyman "successfully hacked the Dispatch System," the court document states, adding that they allowed drivers to skip other taxi drivers in the holding lot by charging them a fee.
NEW YORK, NY – MARCH 13: One person walk in terminal number 7 towards the boarding room of the John F. Kennedy Airport in New York on March 13, 2020. (Pablo Monsalve / VIEWpress via Getty Images / Getty Images)
"Abayev and Leyman charged taxi drivers $10 each time they were advanced to the front of the line. Taxi drivers learned that they could skip the taxi line by paying $10 to members of the Hacking Scheme through word of mouth, and members of the Hacking Scheme offered some taxi drivers waivers of the $10 fee in exchange for recruiting other taxi drivers to pay the $10 fee to skip the taxi line," the Department of Justice alleges.
The two men also allegedly used "large group chat threads" to talk with the taxi drivers, adding that when Abayev and Leyman had access to the dispatch system for one day, they would message the group chat "Shop open."
While carrying out the scheme, the two men allegedly enabled "as many as 1,000 fraudulently expedited taxi trips a day."
Passengers carry their luggage at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, U.S., December 26, 2021. (Reuters/Jeenah Moon/File Photo / Reuters Photos)
In order to "avoid detection from law enforcement "when using trips purchased from the Hacking Scheme," the Justice Department alleges that Abayev sent the following message to tahr group chat:
"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."
Abayev and Leyman are being charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, which have a maximum of 10 years in prison.