Russians Hacked JFK Airport Taxi Dispatch in Line-Skipping Scheme

We at WIRED are winding down for the year and gearing up for what is sure to be an eventful 2023. But 2022 isn’t going down without a fight. 

This week, following a new surge in mayhem at Twitter, we dove into exactly why the public needs real-time flight tracking, even if Elon Musk claims it’s the equivalent of doxing. The crucial transparency this publicly available data provides far outweighs the limited privacy value that censoring would give to the world’s rich and powerful. Unfortunately, Musk’s threats of legal action against the developer of the @ElonJet tracker are having broader chilling effects. 

Meanwhile, Iran’s internet blackouts—a response to widespread civil rights protests—are sabotaging the country’s economy, according to a new assessment from the US Department of State. Due to heavy sanctions on Iranian entities, the exact economic impact of Tehran’s internet blackouts is difficult to calculate. But experts agree it’s not good. 

You may have encountered the Flipper Zero in a recent viral TikTok video—but don’t believe everything you see. WIRED’s Dhruv Mehrotra got his hands on the palm-size device, which packs an array of antennas that allow you to copy and broadcast signals from all types of devices, like RFID chips, NFC cards, and more. We found that while the Flipper Zero can’t, say, make an ATM spill out money, it allows you to do plenty of other things that could get you into trouble. But mostly, it allows you to see the radio-wave-filled world around you like never before.

But that’s not all. Each week, we round up the security stories we didn’t cover in-depth ourselves. Click on the headlines to read the full stories. And stay safe out there. 

Between long hours, medallion costs, and the rise of Uber and Lyft, the life of a New York City cab driver is hard enough. Now it seems that Russian hackers—and a couple of their enterprising partners in Queens—were trying to get their own cut of those drivers’ fares.

According to prosecutors, two Queens men, Daniel Abayev and Peter Leyman, worked with Russian hackers to gain access to the taxi dispatch system for New York’s JFK airport. They then allegedly created a group chat where drivers could secretly pay $10 to skip the sometimes hours-long line to be assigned a pickup—about a fifth of the $52 flat fee passengers pay for rides from the airport to elsewhere in NYC. The indictment against the two men doesn’t name the Russians or detail exactly how they gained access to JFK’s dispatch system. But it notes that since 2019, Abayev and Leyman allegedly schemed to get access to the system by multiple methods, including bribing someone to insert a USB drive with malware into one of the dispatch operators’ computers, gaining unauthorized access to their systems via Wi-Fi, and stealing one of their tablet computers. “I know that the Pentagon is being hacked,” Abayev wrote to his Russian contacts in November 2019, according to the indictment. “So, can’t we hack the taxi industry[?]” 

Before the scheme was shut down, prosecutors say it was enabling as many as a thousand fraudulent line-skips a day for drivers, 

It’s hardly a secret that Cyber Command, the more cyberattack-focused sister organization to the NSA, is frequently engaged in “hunting forward,” as Cybercom director Paul Nakasone has described it. That means hacking foreign hackers preemptively to disrupt their operations, often in advance of an event like a US election. So perhaps it’s no surprise, as The Washington Post reports, that Cybercom targeted Russian and Iranian hackers throughout the 2022 midterm elections. It’s not clear exactly how those hackers were disrupted, but one official told the Post that the operations typically go after the basic tools the hackers use to operate, including their computers, internet connections, and malware. In some cases, that foreign malware is discovered by Cybercom abroad and shared with potential targets in the US to make it more easily detected. 

While foreign hacking of US elections has waned since its peak in 2016—when Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee, Clinton campaign, and many other targets—it has by no means disappeared. Cybersecurity firm Mandiant reported this week that the Russian military intelligence agency the GRU appears to have targeted election websites with distributed denial-of-service attacks during the midterm elections, despite Cyber Command’s efforts.

On Monday, federal prosecutors charged two men—one from Wisconsin, the other from North Carolina—for allegedly participating in a swatting scheme that, over a one-week span, targeted the owners of more than a dozen compromised Ring home security door cameras.  According to the indictment, Kya Christian Nelson, 21, and James Thomas Andrew McCarty, 20, used login credentials from leaked Yahoo accounts to access Ring accounts from individuals around the country. The defendants then allegedly phoned in false reports to law enforcement claiming to dispatchers that a violent incident was taking place at the victim’s house, and then they livestreamed the police response to the hoax. In several of the incidents, the two men taunted responding police officers and victims through the microphone of the Ring device, according to the indictment.

Nelson, who went by the alias “ChumLul,” is currently incarcerated in Kentucky in an unrelated case. McCarty, who went by the alias “Aspertaine,” was arrested last week on federal charges filed in the District of Arizona. Nelson and McCarty are both charged with conspiring to intentionally access computers without authorization. Nelson has also been charged with two counts of intentionally accessing a computer without authorization and two counts of aggravated identity theft. If convicted, they could each face up to five years in prison, with Nelson facing an additional seven years for the additional charges.

In March 2017, Netflix tweeted a simple message: “Love is sharing a password.” Now, five years later, that sentiment is coming to the end of its life. According to a Wall Street Journal report this week, the streaming service plans to clamp down on password sharing in early 2023. Netflix has been testing ways to stop households in Latin America from sharing passwords throughout 2022, and the report suggests it is ready to expand the measures. Netflix says more than 100 million viewers watch its TV shows and movies using other people’s passwords, and it wants to convert those views into cash. “Make no mistake, I don’t think consumers are going to love it right out of the gate,” the Journal reports Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos telling investors earlier this year. Elsewhere, the UK government’s Intellectual Property Office said it believes sharing passwords for online streaming services could breach copyright laws. It is unlikely anyone would ever be prosecuted, though.

The Roomba J7 home robot uses “PrecisionVision Navigation” to avoid objects in your home—such as piles of clothes on the floor or accidental piles of dog crap. The robot is partly able to do this using a built-in camera and computer vision. However, as MIT Technology Review reported this week, gig economy workers in Venezuela posted photos from the robots online—including one image of a woman on the toilet. The photos and videos were captured by a development version of the J7 robot in 2020 and shared with a startup that contracts workers to label the images, helping to train computer vision systems. Those using the development machines had agreed for their data to be shared. Roomba maker iRobot, which is being purchased by Amazon, said it is ending its contract with the startup that leaked the images and is investigating what happened. However, the incident highlights some of the potential privacy risks with the vast data sets that are used to train artificial intelligence applications.

All Kelly Conlon wanted to do was watch the Rockettes with her daughter’s Girl Scout troop. But thanks to a face recognition system run by Madison Square Garden Entertainment, Conlon was summarily kicked out of Radio City Music Hall because she was unknowingly banned from the venue. The issue, according to MSG Entertainment, is that Conlon is an attorney at a law firm that’s currently engaged in litigation against the company. (Conlon said she is not personally involved in that litigation.) “They knew my name before I told them. They knew the firm I was associated with before I told them. And they told me I was not allowed to be there,” Conlon told NBC New York. MSG Entertainment, meanwhile, defended the attorney’s expulsion as necessary to avoid an “inherently adverse environment.” The episode adds to concerns over the use of face-recognition tech, which remains so underregulated that a corporation can use it to punish its enemies. Happy holidays!

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