A US grand jury in Atlanta has indicted eight people related to hacking into a computer network operated by credit-card processing vendor RBS WorldPlay and stealing US$9 million.
Indicted Tuesday were Sergei Tsurikov, 25, of Tallinn, Estonia; Viktor Pleshchuk, 28, of St. Petersburg, Russia; Oleg Covelin, 28, of Chisinau, Moldova; and a person known only as Hacker 3. They were charged in a 16-count indictment of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit computer fraud, computer fraud, access device fraud and aggravated identity theft.
Also indicted in US District Court for the Northern District of Georgia were Igor Grudijev, 31, Ronald Tsoi, 31, Evelin Tsoi, 20, and Mihhail Jevgenov, 33, each of Tallinn, on a charge each of access device fraud.
The indictment alleges that the group used sophisticated hacking techniques to compromise the data encryption that was used by RBS WorldPay to protect customer data on payroll debit cards, which are used by companies to pay employees. Using a payroll debit card, employees are able to withdraw their regular salaries from an ATM.
Once the encryption on the card-processing system was compromised, the hacking ring allegedly raised the account limits on compromised accounts, and then provided a network of so-called "cashers" with 44 counterfeit payroll debit cards, the US Department of Justice said. Those counterfeit cards ere used to withdraw more than $9 million from more than 2,100 ATMs in about 280 cities worldwide, including cities in the US, Russia, Ukraine, Estonia, Italy, Hong Kong, Japan and Canada.
The $9 million loss happened in less than 12 hours last November.
The hackers then allegedly sought to destroy data stored on the card-processing network in order to conceal their hacking activity, the DOJ said. The indictment alleges that the cashers were allowed to keep 30 percent to 50 percent of the stolen funds, but transmitted the rest of the funds back to Tsurikov, Pleshchuk and other co-defendants. After discovering the unauthorised activity, RBS WorldPay, a division of the Royal Bank of Scotland, immediately reported the breach.
Several overseas law-enforcement agencies cooperated in the investigation. Estonian Central Criminal Police apprehended Tsurikov, Ronald Tsoi, Evelin Tsoi and Jevgenov in Estonia earlier this year. Each is facing related charges in Estonia. Tsurikov is also in custody in Estonia and is pending extradition to the US.
Cooperation between the Hong Kong Police Force and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation also led to a parallel investigation in Hong Kong, resulting in the identification and arrest of two individuals who were responsible for withdrawing RBS WorldPay funds from ATMs there. The Netherlands Police Agency National Crime Squad High Tech Crime Unit and the Netherlands National Public Prosecutor's Office also provided significant assistance, the DOJ said.
Tsurikov, Pleshchuk, Covelin and Hacker 3 each face a maximum sentence of up to 20 years in prison for conspiracy to commit wire fraud and each wire fraud count; up to five years in prison for conspiracy to commit computer fraud; up to five or 10 years in prison for each count of computer fraud; a two-year mandatory minimum sentence for aggravated identity theft; and fines up to $3.5 million dollars.
The charges against Grudijev, the Tsois and Jevgenov carry a maximum of up to 15 years in prison for each count and a fine of up to $250,000. The indictment also seeks criminal forfeiture of $9.4 million from the defendants.
"The charges brought against this highly sophisticated international hacking ring were possible only because of unprecedented international cooperation with our law enforcement partners, particularly between the United States and Estonia," Lanny Breuer, assistant attorney general in the DOJ's Criminal Division, said in a statement.
Sally Quillian Yates, the acting US attorney in the Northern District of Georgia, said the assistance of RBS WorldPlay and other law enforcement agencies helped solve the case.
"Last November, in just one day, an American credit card processor was hacked in perhaps the most sophisticated and organized computer fraud attack ever conducted," she said in a statement. "Today, almost exactly one year later, the leaders of this attack have been charged. This investigation has broken the back of one of the most sophisticated computer hacking rings in the world."