Four Russian nationals and a Ukrainian have been charged with running a sophisticated hacking organization that over seven years penetrated computer networks of more than a dozen major American and international corporations, stealing and selling at least 160 million credit and debit card numbers, resulting in losses of hundreds of millions of dollars.
The victims in a scheme that allegedly ran from 2005 until last year included the electronic stock exchange Nasdaq; 7-Eleven Inc.; JCPenney Co.; the New England supermarket chain Hannaford Brothers Co.; JetBlue; Heartland Payment Systems Inc., one of the world's largest credit and debit processing companies, French retailer Carrefour S.A., and the Belgium bank Dexia Bank Belgium.
The indictment says the suspects sent each other instant messages as they took control of the corporate data, telling each other, for instance: "NASDAQ is owned." At least one man told others that he used Google news alerts to learn whether his hacks had been discovered, according to NBC News.
The defendants were identified as Russians Vladimir Drinkman, Aleksander Kalinin, Roman Kotov and Dmitriy Smilianets, and Ukrainian Mikhail Rytikov. Authorities say one suspect is in the Netherlands and another is due to appear in U.S. District Court in New Jersey next week, said NBC News.
Prosecutors identified Drinkman and Kalinin as "sophisticated" hackers who specialized in penetrating the computer networks of multinational corporations, financial institutions and payment processors.
Kotov's specialty was harvesting data from the networks after they had been penetrated, and Rytikov provided anonymous web-hosting services that were used to hack into computer networks and covertly remove data, NBC News said.
All five are charged with taking part in a computer hacking conspiracy and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. The four Russian nationals are also charged with multiple counts of unauthorized computer access and wire fraud.
The individuals who purchased the credit and debit card numbers and associated data from the hacking organization resold them through online forums or directly to others known as "cashers," NBC News said. According to the indictment, U.S. credit card numbers sold for about $10 each; Canadian numbers were $15 and European ones $50.
The data was stored on computer servers all over the world, including in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, California, Illinois, Latvia, the Netherlands, Bahamas, Ukraine, Panama and Germany.
The cashers would encode the information onto the magnetic strips of blank plastic cards and cash out the value, by either withdrawing money from ATMs in the case of debit cards, or running up charges and purchasing goods in the case of credit cards.