June 3, 2021

The Most Peculiar Cases of Hackers and Criminals Getting Busted

Hackers and criminals getting busted by eating and drinking habits

It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that “hacking” is severely romanticized in pop culture. Why is that? 

Well, for one, people are strange. We are undoubtedly fascinated by crime and everything that surrounds it, because that’s the ultimate human drama. Sometimes such drama is framed as the most terrifying horror story and we can’t look away from the trainwreck.

Stories about pirates, serial killers, bank robbers, mafia, and also hackers all made Hollywood producers a bank, even though the paying spectators would probably not enjoy the aforementioned company in real life. It’s not about the “sympathy for the devil” but bigger-than-life personalities that make those breathtaking stories even more special.

Real life tends to cater drama differently though. Here you don’t have a guaranteed thirty minute intro, perfectly cut dialogues, or nicely flowing action scenes. In real life, there’s no plot armor. 

And so today I decided to remember some of the most fascinating stories where “extremely online people” from the other side of the law were captured through silly and somewhat humorous mistakes. 

In this edition we will talk mostly about food and drinks.

The Only Weapon of the Con Artist Is Their Brain

I think we can agree that the hacker’s mind works differently to that of “normal” human beings. 

But at the end of the day, no matter how different they may be from the ”normies”, they still need food for thought and actual food to fuel their Wisconsin-sized brains. Well, after going through some of these stories, I am not sure if that statement holds up. 

And although a lot of hackers are very fond of machines, they themselves are not robots.

They commit little flubs and botches that don’t look compromising at the first glance, but leave enough breadcrumbs for intelligence and security services, who eagerly wait for their target to screw up. And at the end of the day, when the subject under the magnifying glass makes enough movement, there will be a misstep. 

Nobody can keep their tracks clean for long when operating under such pressure. Here is a quote from “The Art of Email Security” I thought of when researching the stories.

Nobody is a machine. People get lazy, people get tired. They get sick of living in their compound and when they walk out through their front door, that’s the day they get shot.” - David Emerson.

Hackers don’t get shot, but the quote reassures my point. The discontent pushes criminals over the edge, and when they are seeking comfort, they leave the safety zone behind. 

In the first story, the evil-doer opened the door figuratively, but got an order he didn’t expect.

You’re Not You When You’re Hungry

Pizza. How many feelings stand behind these five majestic letters!

The murmurs in the belly, the memories of your favorite toppings, the pure horror when you see someone eat their slice with knife and fork… So much emotional connection for a pretty simple food to make or order. Well, that’s the problem - pizza is too good to resist, and too easy to get.

Twenty-five year old David Bukoski, the operator of the “booter” service Quantum Stresser, has fallen from criminal grace for pizza reasons.

The Pennsylvania resident operated one of the most prominent attack-for-hire services, and got five years of probation after ordering a bacon and chicken pizza using the same email he originally used to register his criminal attack service.

I guess David was more worried about the bacon on the pizza, and not his own bacon that day.

Some of you have caught the word “probation” written above. How can someone with such a track record only get probation? Oh, the reason may be one of the greatest life hacks hackers can ever learn.

The young man’s diet was so appalling that his poor health condition made him unfit for strict sentencing. The morale of the story? Fast food can save you from prison, and eating salad is not an option when you take the bacon home by knocking websites and network providers down. 

And Dave is not the only person that got “backstabbed” by pizza! 

Meet Yuriy "jtk" Konovalenko, a member of the crime gang that used the infamous ZeuS malware to steal tens of millions of dollars from companies and consumers.

In 2012, then 30-year-old Ukrainian hacker unmasked himself by ordering a “Veggie Roma” pizza to his residence in the UK. Local investigators had been working with the FBI to monitor the communications of several members of the London-based ZeuS gang, and only got a breakthrough because “jtk” used his Internet connection to place an order.

Perhaps pizza has done more than NSA’s phone program to stop criminals too? 

It is also not out of the ordinary for small-time fraudsters to celebrate their imminent success with the Italian gift of the gods. Pizza unites people! In this case, behind the bars.

Cheese It - The Cops!

To continue the topic and uveil how effective food can be to catch a criminal, we will switch to the literal cheese block. To be exact, a Blue Stilton cheese that cost Carl Stewart, the Encrochat drug dealer, over 13 years in prison. So how did that happen? 

Carl Stewart, a Liverpool resident, was involved in supplying large amounts of class A and B drugs like cocaine, heroin, MDMA, and ketamine. Carl was involved in coordinating and planning the supply and distribution of drugs and weapons, money laundering and other criminal activity.

He is the latest criminal to be prosecuted under "Operation Venetic," an investigation into the use of Encrochat by criminal groups. To those who have never heard about it, Encrochat was an instant messaging and mobile phone platform that was closed down by the police in July of 2020. 

The anti-Encrochat operation started in 2016, after partners in France and the Netherlands infiltrated the platform. After seizing the servers, agents analyzed data shared across the network and had an “aha” moment when Carl Stewart shared a pic of the cheese block through the app. 

Thing is, the criminal caught his palm and fingerprints on tape. Not a “smoking gun” by any means, but that image served as a starting point and verified Stewart’s involvement in the operations. 

Criminals need to eat too. Bacon, chicken, cheese are tasty, but justice is... mucho delicioso!

Where’s Food - There’s Drinks

To round off the first edition of hackers getting busted in peculiar ways, I present to you the story of a prominent carder Cameron Harrison, aka “Kilobit”.

The young man from Georgia was associated with the Carder.su organization whose members trafficked compromised credit card account data and counterfeit identifications and committed money laundering, narcotics trafficking and computer crimes. 

Even though Cam was involved in million dollar schemes, his first arrest was a result of... underage drinking. When Cam was eighteen, he got caught in a bar with a fake ID which booked Harrison his first court appearance. While Cameron was under that charge, local investigators were also trying to figure out who was cashing out on stolen credit cards at ATMs.  

One of the cashiers at a gas station saw the video footage of Cam taking money out of the ATM and remembered his face. The cashier wrote Cam’s license plate down and sent it to the police. Police built a case, got a warrant, and used the perfect opportunity to catch Cam while he was in the courtroom and couldn’t escape to another state. 

Even though Cam had actually been carding thousands of cards, phishing millions of people and robbing banks all over the country, the police had only uncovered a very small part of the operation and charged him with financial card forgery and forced him to serve ten months in a county jail. 

Pretty much a ‘slap on the wrist’ compared to what he could have gotten. Funny enough, his second arrest also was a result of a relatively minor misconduct - smoking weed in the hotel room. And when Homeland Security and Secret Service got on his tail, he got caught while going for a haircut. 

He went to prison in 2012 and he spent eight years there, now living at a halfway house. He’s also forced to pay 50 million dollars in restitution.

So what can we learn from these stories? Operational security is a beast to cope with, and even successful long-term criminals fall down because of it, whether it’s food, drinks, weed, or haircuts.

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