In November 2008, a group of international hackers allegedly infiltrated the computer network of a major financial services company in what authorities describe as one of the most sophisticated attacks ever concocted.
Around the time Barack Obama was securing his White House win, the hackers allegedly entered RBS WorldPay servers, accessed prepaid payroll card numbers, cracked their encrypted PIN codes, raised the balances on the cards and distributed dozens of them to a team of people around the world.
It is further alleged that in the span of 12 hours around Nov. 8 of that year, the group hit 2,100 ATM terminals in 280 cities spanning the world, from the United States to Russia to Italy to Japan. Prosecutors say they withdrew $9 million — a haul that rivals 1,000 typical bank robberies in the United States.
Despite the technical and international challenges of the case, U.S. investigators believe they were able to trace the scheme back to its origin. On Friday they brought one of the accused ringleaders from Estonia to Atlanta to face arraignment on several fraud charges — a rare appearance in U.S. courts for an accused international hacker.
Sergei Tsurikov, 26, of Tallinn, Estonia, pleaded not guilty at his arraignment to conspiracy to commit computer fraud, computer fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.
With such an increasing need for cyber defenses, the FBI has ramped up its focus, training some 900 agents in how to handle such crimes. In the RBS case, they sent a group of FBI experts to Atlanta, where RBS is based, to investigate.
While U.S. authorities have been able to crack down on cyber crimes originating in the United states, the FBI has had to increasingly rely on foreign partners to restrict attacks coming from overseas, in places like Egypt, Turkey and Hong Kong. Estonia assisted in both the investigation and extradition in the hacker case.
Tsurikov was indicted last year in the case along with Viktor Pleshchuk of St. Petersburg, Russia, Covelin of Chisinau, Moldova, and three others from Estonia. The three leading suspects have been convicted in Estonia. In the United States they face up to 20 years in prison for wire fraud charges and between 5 and 10 years for computer fraud charges.
Tsurikov is the first to face his U.S. charges. Officials said extradition of the others is in progress.
Douglas McNabb and other members of the firm practice and write extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, Interpol Litigation, International Extradition and OFAC Litigation.
The author of this blog is Douglas McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or at one of the offices listed above.