Two Men Arrested for JFK Airport Taxi Hacking Scheme

The US Justice Department has announced the arrest of two men allegedly involved in a hacking scheme targeting the taxi dispatch system at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

According to authorities, the suspects, Daniel Abayev and Peter Leyman, both residing in New York, hacked into the dispatch system at JFK in an effort to make modifications so that certain taxi drivers would be sent to the front of the line.

At JFK, taxis are required to wait in a holding lot before being dispatched to a terminal in the order in which they arrived. Taxis may need to wait several hours in this lot before being dispatched.

However, Abayev and Leyman hacked into the taxi dispatch system and could manipulate the order in which taxis were dispatched, making it possible for some taxis to skip the line. Taxi drivers who were in on the scheme were charged $10 each time they skipped the line.

The suspects, both aged 48, allegedly hacked the system with the aid of hackers residing in Russia. The cybercrime operation started in 2019, and hacking attempts included bribing someone to deploy malware onto dispatch system computers using a flash drive, gaining unauthorized access to the system via a Wi-Fi attack, and stealing tablets connected to the dispatch system.

“I know that the Pentagon is being hacked[.]. So, can’t we hack the taxi industry[?],” the suspects allegedly said.

While both suspects are US citizens, they communicated in Russian with the hackers located in Russia.

Through this scheme, which ran until September 2021, the hackers enabled up to 1,000 fraudulently expedited taxi trips per day, the indictment shows. Abayev and Leyman are said to have sent more than $100,000 of their profit to the hackers in Russia.

The suspects have each been charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, which carries a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

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