Young cyber-terrorists hold top US firms to ransom in Transylvania
Date: June 30, 2003
By Gabriel Ronay
Several top American companies have been blackmailed to the tune of $50,000 a head by Romanian hackers practising 'cyber- terrorism' from the backwoods of Transylvania. Astonishingly, the cyber wizards who penetrated the databases of security-conscious corporate America turned out to be a group of Romanian high school drop-outs, work-shy provincials and students manquZ.
Romania is not exactly in the vanguard of the high-tech revolution and the medieval Transylvanian town of Sibiu, the hub of the daring hacking operation, has hitherto been better known as the birthplace of Vlad Dracula the Impaler than the new Silicon Valley of the Balkans.
The modus operandi of the Sibiu 'cyber terrorists,' as they have been nicknamed by the FBI, was simple enough: they would hack into the server of a big US company, access their protected database, download clients' personal files and then demand $50,000 for not publishing the confidential documents on the internet.
The young hackers' work paid so well that last April the targeted US companies sought the help of the FBI to get on the trail of the blackmailers. The ripped-off companies have not been named for fear of alarming their clients.
In an operation involving the Special Investigations Unit of the Romanian Supreme Court, the directorate-general for combating organised crime and drugs trafficking and the Bucharest-based regional centre for the trans-border fight against organised crime, officers of the FBI tracked the cyber blackmail gang to Sibiu in the Carpathian mountains.
In order to identify the blackmailers, two further transfers of ransom money from America to Romania were 'overseen' by the FBI and Romanian investigators. Upon the lifting of a tranche of $3600 in Sibiu, the authorities pounced.
Last week, general Dan Fatuloiu, the deputy director of the directorate-general for combating organised crime and drugs trafficking revealed that, after two months of surveillance, two members of the gang were caught red-handed as they withdrew $3600 with a number of credit cards from a specially set up account where the blackmailed US firms had been instructed to deposit the payoff.
He named them as Stefan Olaru, aged 21, a high school pupil, and Sebastian Nicolae Zeicu, an unemployed man of 25. An investigating magistrate helpfully explained that Olaru, 'still a pupil owing to certain disciplinary exclusions from school', was the leader of the 'cyber-terrorists' and the mastermind of the entire heist.
He named the other members of the gang as Florin Lomnasan, a high school pupil aged 19, Loredana Nastase, an 18-year-old unemployed worker, Emilian Militaru, a student aged 25, and Vasile Somfalean, a cyber cafZ manager aged 25. They were all charged with complicity in blackmail and aiding and abetting cyber crimes.
Olaru was specifically charged with unauthorized accessing of the servers of US firms, illegal downloading of confidential files and blackmailing the companies. He used the cyber cafZ managed by Somfalean to carry out the alleged internet crimes. Fatuloiu added that Olaru, who controlled the entire operation, faced a number of further serious charges.
Loredana Nastase's job was to open an account for the extorted money. Sebastian Nicolae Zeicu's task was to withdraw the deposited blackmail money from ATMs in Sibiu. Florin Lomnasan and Sebastian Nicolae Zeicu were separately charged with the receivership of the American ransom money.
Olaru and Zeicu, caught red-handed with some of the blackmail money, are being kept for 30 days in a local jail for further investigation. To the horror of the Americans, the other members of the cyber terror gang have been released on bail.
Somewhat surprisingly, Olaru and his merry 'cyber gangsters' are seen locally as some sort of Transylvanian Robin Hoods, who, despite their obvious Balkans handicaps, almost managed to beat the authorities of the world's most technologically advanced country.
For Romanians at large the Sibiu hackers are the heroes of our time and their heist no more than 'a nice little earner'. The fact that they had broken the law and resorted to a little injudicious blackmailing is being overlooked as the tens of thousands of dollars they took from corporate America fits the popular attitude summed up in the Bucharest saying: 'Let the rich pay'.
Original article: http://www.sundayherald.com/34961
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