New York City taxis
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Two Queens men sentenced for hacking into JFK airport taxi dispatch system

The ringleader of a scheme to hack into the taxi dispatch system at New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and charge drivers to skip ahead in the pickup line was sentenced to four years in U.S. prison on Monday. An accomplice, Peter Leyman, was sentenced to two years in prison.

The scheme was orchestrated by Queens resident Daniel Abayev, who in November 2019 texted an alleged accomplice in Russian: “I know that the Pentagon is being hacked. So, can’t we hack the taxi industry[?]”

The men took advantage of bottlenecks at the airport, where drivers must wait their turn in a holding lot, sometimes for several hours, before being dispatched to pick up a ride.

In 2019, Abayev, Leyman and allegedly two at-large Russian hackers, Aleksandr Derebenetc and Kirill Shipulin, began attempting to access the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s dispatch system in a variety of ways, including: bribing someone to connect a flash drive with malware onto computers connected to the dispatch; stealing connected computer tablets; and penetrating the system through a Wi-Fi connection.

“At various times between November 2019 and November 2020, the members of the Hacking Scheme successfully hacked the Dispatch System,” a press release issued Monday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of New York said. “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.”

The men admitted to charging drivers $10 every time they were moved up in the queue, with some of the funds then allegedly transferred to Shipulin and Derebenetc.

In a group chat with drivers, they would inform them when they had access to the dispatch system by texting “Shop open.” Drivers could then send their taxi medallion numbers and payment in order to hop the line. According to prosecutors, as many as 1,000 taxi trips were “expedited” every day.

The two men were also sentenced to three years of supervised release and must each pay more than $161,000 in forfeiture and nearly $3.5 million in restitution.

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James Reddick

James Reddick

has worked as a journalist around the world, including in Lebanon and in Cambodia, where he was Deputy Managing Editor of The Phnom Penh Post. He is also a radio and podcast producer for outlets like Snap Judgment.