The story of the sysadmin who took down the drug trafficker
During the trial against Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, it was revealed that the collaboration of his system administrator was a fundamental element to achieve the arrest of the drug kingpin, as reported by network security experts from the International Institute of Cyber Security.
A couple of months after the trial began in a New York court, FBI representatives stated that they were able to access hundreds of “El Chapo” and his closest workers phone calls through a custom encrypted system thanks to the collaboration of the person responsible for configuring it, the systems engineer Cristian Rodriguez.
Multiple recordings of phone calls have been filed during the trial. The recordings detail various criminal activities of the trafficker, such as dealing with cocaine purchases and conversations with corrupt police authorities included in the criminal gang’s payroll.
These recordings were made possible because, about a year ago, a federal agent who impersonated a Russian drug kingpin met with Rodriguez in New York, mentioning that he required a system to make calls without the police compromising his telephone line.
Rodríguez had already implemented a similar system for Guzman on the recommendation of criminal groups in Colombia. The IT expert was able to establish a secure cartel communications network using a closed and encrypted Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) network, as reported by network security experts.
Knowing this, federal agents focused on Rodriguez, approaching him as supposed criminal bosses. A while later, they managed to convince Rodriguez to turn his back on Guzman, changing his servers from Canada to Holland, lying to Guzman saying that the move was just a system update, and granting the new encryption keys to the FBI agents.
From that moment, the authorities were able to take recordings of the calls of El Chapo, as reported by the experts in network security.
This information was detailed during the trial by Steve Marston, FBI Special Agent, who stated that, with the help of Rodriguez, they managed to intercept more than 1500 phone calls made on this encrypted network between 2011 and 2012.
The prosecutors presented Rodriguez as a key witness at the trial. The IT expert managed to leave the criminal group after giving the keys to the feds, generating suspicion in El Chapo, who sent several assassins to look for the engineer in systems. Rodriguez is expected to appear as a witness at some point in the trial.
He is a well-known expert in mobile security and malware analysis. He studied Computer Science at NYU and started working as a cyber security analyst in 2003. He is actively working as an anti-malware expert. He also worked for security companies like Kaspersky Lab. His everyday job includes researching about new malware and cyber security incidents. Also he has deep level of knowledge in mobile security and mobile vulnerabilities.