PeterStar Hackers in Custody




ST. PETERSBURG -- Four men have been charged with defrauding 10 St. Petersburg-based companies out of $100,000 by hacking their telephone systems and stealing dialing codes.


According to officials at the police department dealing with hi-tech crime, two of the men, both St. Petersburg residents, broke into the companies' telephone systems and stole their numerical codes, while the other two, from Turkmenistan and Bulgaria, sold access to the codes. Once a company's code had been obtained, the hackers could dial anywhere in the world with the cost billed to the company. The hackers were first detected in February by security officials at PeterStar telecommunications company and one of its clients, communications firm Telros, which discovered a remote connection to local, national and international lines in the Telros switchboard.


PeterStar's security staff uncovered similar situations at nine more of its client companies, which PeterStar representatives declined to name. The bulk of the $100,000 losses was sustained by Telros, although neither Telros nor PeterStar would specify the exact sum.


According to Nikolai Nesterov, a senior police investigator, most of the hackers' clients were foreign students. "They let other people call, say, America or China at a rate of 10 rubles a minute. That's a good price, so next time the student brings 10 of his friends, while the company has to pay the full cost."


By May, PeterStar, Telros and the police had enough information to pinpoint the location from which calls were being made, and the Bulgarian and Turkmen suspects were immediately arrested. Their suspected accomplices were caught a few days later.


"We saw the first attempt at stealing [a telephone code] with our first-ever client," said Alexander Isayev, PeterStar's deputy director for business development, "so this kind of hacking is nothing new to us."


"It's a business that is on the rise," said investigator Vasily Chumakov. "The problem is there are young, smart people, who don't need highly sophisticated equipment [to steal telephone codes] and who see an opportunity to make some money."