Two New York men were arrested for conspiring with Russian nationals in hacking the taxi dispatch system at John F. Kennedy International Airport in order to manipulate the line and charge drivers for access to the front of the queue, according to federal prosecutors.
Daniel Abayev and Peter Leyman, both 48, are in custody as of Tuesday morning in Queens. They were charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, said prosecutors from the Southern District of New York.
In 2019, the two men allegedly worked with hackers based in Russia to infiltrate JFK's taxi dispatch system by bribing an individual to install malware on computers connected to the system, stealing computer tablets and using Wi-Fi to break in, say, prosecutors.
"I know that the Pentagon is being hacked … so can't we hack the taxi industry[?]."According to the indictment, Abayev allegedly texted one of the hackers in November 2019.
Once they gained access to the dispatch system, Abayev and Leyman could move specific taxis to the front of the line, charging drivers $10 to skip the queue, prosecutors alleged.
Typically, taxis looking to pick up someone from JFK wait in a holding lot before they're dispatched to a specific terminal. The process can take hours, significantly impacting how much money a taxi driver can earn.
Prosecutors estimate Abayev and Leyman manipulated as many as 1,000 taxi trips throughout Nov. 2019 and Nov. 2020.
"As alleged in the indictment, these two defendants — with the help of Russian hackers — took the Port Authority for a ride," Damian Williams, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District, said in a statement.
"For years, the defendants' hacking kept honest cab drivers from being able to pick up fares at JFK in the order in which they arrived," Williams said.
The suspects are to appear before Judge Gabriel Gorenstein on Tuesday. They face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
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