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Two men are detained on suspicion of hacking the JFK taxi system

Between September 2019 and September 2021, two United States residents were detained and accused of colluding with Russian nationals to hack the taxi dispatch system at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), charging cab drivers a charge of $10 to get to the head of the line.

According to a DOJ indictment filed in the Southern District of New York, Daniel Abayev and Peter Leyman (both 48 and from Queens, New York) effectively accessed the dispatch system in 2019 with the assistance of unknown Russian individuals. The Department of Justice claims that Leyman and Abayev used the system to expedite the service of some taxis in exchange for a $10 charge from the drivers. The hackers also promised to cover the $10 cost if they could get enough cabbies to join their scam.

The JFK taxi dispatch system guarantees cabbies a level playing field, but the system also causes drivers to wait for a while between jobs.

The taxis at JFK Airport are coordinated by a computerised dispatch system that moves them from the parking lot to the terminal. The system was put in place to make sure everyone gets paid fairly, but long waits may cut into a cab driver’s daily take.

The hackers contacted cab drivers via group chats and gave them tips on how to evade authorities. The indictment states that Leyman and Abayev authorised as many as one thousand travels per day and sent at least $100,000 to the hackers in Russia as “payment for software development.”

The prosecution claims the suspects considered a variety of methods for breaking into the system, including attempting to bribe an employee into installing malware on the company’s computers via a flash drive, stealing tablets with network access, and logging into the dispatch network without permission. According to the indictment, conspirators spoke through text messaging about their plans to breach the dispatch system. The Pentagon is being hacked, I have proof. What stops us from cracking the taxi business, then? In November of2019, Abayev sent a communication to a Russian conspirator.

If proven guilty, the maximum term for the alleged cybercrimes committed by both individuals is ten years in jail.

“For years, the defendants’ hacking prevented honest taxi drivers at JFK from picking up fares in the order in which they came,” said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams in a statement. The Port Authority and this Office worked together to bring the defendants charged with severe offences related to their alleged cybercrimes.

If found guilty, the two men face a maximum of 10 years in jail on each of two charges of conspiracy to conduct computer intrusion.