Two men allegedly hacked JFK's taxi dispatch system with Russian help

It was all to let drivers skip the taxi wait line.

JEWEL SAMAD via Getty Images

Would you pay a few bucks to skip an interminably long taxi wait line at the airport? That's essentially what Daniel Abayev and Peter Leyman did, according to the DOJ, except they focused on taxi drivers. The two men, both from Queens, have been arrested for hacking into JFK's taxi dispatch system with the help of Russian nationals. From September 2019 and September 2021, they charged drivers $10 to jump ahead of JFK's taxi queue. Typically, those cars are sent out depending on their order of arrival.

"For years, the defendants’ hacking kept honest cab drivers from being able to pick up fares at JFK in the order in which they arrived," U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement. "Now, thanks to this Office’s teamwork with the Port Authority, these defendants are facing serious criminal charges for their alleged cybercrimes.”

According to the DOJ's indictment, both men explored a variety of ways to break into JFK's taxi dispatch system, from bribing people to insert a malware-filled flash drive into a computer, stealing tablets and logging into the system over Wi-Fi. Abayev at one point messaged one of the Russian hackers: “I know that the Pentagon is being hacked[.]. So, can’t we hack the taxi industry[?]”

The pair used chat threads to communicate with drivers, some of whom also had their $10 fee waived if they could recruit others. Abayev and Leyman have been charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, which carry a maximum 10-year sentence in prison. Their story follows a spate of Russian cyberattacks over the last ten years, including the infamous hack on Florida's voter databases in 2016, a decade-long malware scheme to steal millions, and the theft of NATO data in 2014.