Boro Men Get Prison Time for JFK Taxi System Hack

Boro Men Get Prison Time for JFK Taxi System Hack

By Forum Staff

Two borough residents have been sentenced to prison for their roles in a scheme to hack the electronic taxi dispatch system at John F. Kennedy International Airport, federal prosecutors announced on Monday.

Daniel Abayev, 47, was sentenced to four years in prison and Peter Leyman, 49, was sentenced to two years in prison. Both were sentenced to three years of supervised release and each ordered to pay $161,858.26 in forfeiture and $3,456,169.50 in restitution.

On Oct. 4 and Oct. 30, 2023, respectively, Leyman and Abayev each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to commit computer intrusion.

According to the charging documents and other filings and statements made in court:

From at least September 2019 through September 2021, Abayev and Leyman, who are U.S. citizens residing in Queens, and Aleksandr Derebenetc, a/k/a “Sasha Novgorod,” and Kirill Shipulin, a/k/a “Kirill Russia,” who are Russian nationals residing in Russia, 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, Abayev, Leyman, Derebenetc, and Shipulin attempted various mechanisms to access the Dispatch System without authorization, 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 Nov. 10, 2019, Abayev messaged 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, the members of the Hacking Scheme 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 was the leader of the Hacking Scheme and recruited the other participants. 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.

“Daniel Abayev and Peter Leyman, allegedly assisted by Russian hackers, wrought havoc on JFK’s electronic taxi dispatch system, impacting fair order and creating chaos for honest taxi professionals.  Their actions enabled up to 1,000 fraudulent taxi trips daily, underscoring the serious threat cyber hacking poses to critical infrastructure,” Damian Williams, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of NY, said. “Through our collaborative efforts with law enforcement partners, their scheme was dismantled, and the defendants have been rightfully sentenced.”

Derebenetc and Shipulin remain at large.



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