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JFK taxi dispatch system hacked, Latest York men arrested for conspiracy

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Arriving passengers line as much as get taxi outside of Terminal 4 on the JFK airport in Latest York.

Jewel Samad | AFP | Getty Images

Two Latest York men were arrested for conspiring with Russian nationals to hack the taxi dispatch system at John F. Kennedy International Airport in order that they could manipulate the road and charge drivers for access to the front of the queue, federal prosecutors said Tuesday. 

Daniel Abayev and Peter Leyman, each 48, were taken into custody on Tuesday morning in Queens and charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, prosecutors from the Southern District of Latest York announced. 

Starting in 2019, the 2 allegedly worked with hackers based in Russia to infiltrate JFK’s taxi dispatch system by bribing someone to put in malware on computers connected to the system, stealing computer tablets and using Wi-Fi to interrupt in, prosecutors alleged. 

“I do know that the Pentagon is being hacked… so cannot we hack the taxi industry[?]” Abayev allegedly texted considered one of the hackers in November 2019, in line with the indictment against him. 

Once the hackers successfully gained access to the dispatch system, Abayev and Leyman were in a position to move specific taxis to the front of the road and started charging drivers $10 to skip the queue, prosecutors alleged. 

Typically, taxi drivers seeking to pick up travelers at JFK wait in a holding lot before they’re dispatched to a particular terminal within the order during which they arrived. The method can take hours, and the wait time can have a major impact on how much money a taxi driver is in a position to earn in a day. 

Prosecutors estimate Abayev and Leyman were in a position to manipulate as many as 1,000 taxi trips a day throughout the course of the scheme, which went on from about November 2019 to November 2020. 

“As alleged within the indictment, these two defendants — with the assistance of Russian hackers — took the Port Authority for a ride,” Damian Williams, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District, said in an announcement. 

Drivers learned in regards to the scheme through word of mouth, and a few were even allowed to chop the road free of charge — in the event that they agreed to recruit other cabbies that were willing to pay, prosecutors alleged. 

“For years, the defendants’ hacking kept honest cab drivers from with the ability to pick up fares at JFK within the order during which they arrived,” Williams said.  

The suspects are slated to seem before Judge Gabriel Gorenstein later Tuesday. They withstand 10 years in prison in the event that they’re convicted. It will not be clear in the event that they had retained an attorney. 

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