Arriving passengers line up to get a taxi outside Terminal 4 at JFK Airport in New York.
Jewel Samad | AFP | Good pictures
John F. Two New York men have been arrested for conspiring with Russians to hack the taxi dispatch system at Kennedy International Airport so they could manipulate the queue and charge drivers to get ahead of the queue, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.
Daniel Abeau and Peter Layman, both 48, were taken into custody Tuesday morning in Queens and charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit computer hacking, prosecutors for the Southern District of New York announced.
Beginning in 2019, prosecutors allege that the two worked with Russia-based hackers to break into JFK’s taxi dispatch system, bribe someone to install malware on computers connected to the system, steal computer tablets and use Wi-Fi to get in.
“I know the Pentagon is being hacked…so the taxi industry can’t be hacked[?]According to the indictment against him, Abeev allegedly texted one of the hackers in November 2019.
Once the hackers successfully gained access to the dispatch system, Abeau and Layman were able to move certain taxis to the front of the queue and began charging drivers $10 to skip the queue, prosecutors allege.
Typically, taxi drivers wishing to pick up passengers at JFK wait in a holding area before being directed to a specific terminal in the order in which they arrived. The process can take hours, and the wait time can have a significant impact on how much money a taxi driver can make per day.
Prosecutors estimate that Abeau and Lehmann handled 1,000 taxi trips a day during the scheme, which lasted from November 2019 to November 2020.
“As alleged in the indictment, these two defendants — aided by Russian hackers — took the Port Authority for a ride,” U.S. Attorney for the Southern District Damian Williams said in a statement.
Drivers learned about the program through word of mouth, and some were allowed to lower their fares for free — if they agreed to recruit other cabbies willing to pay, prosecutors alleged.
“For years, the defendants’ hacking has prevented honest cab drivers from picking up fares at JFK in the order they arrived,” Williams said.
The suspects are scheduled to appear before Judge Gabriel Corenstein later Tuesday. If convicted, they face up to 10 years in prison. It is unclear whether they have retained an attorney.