A recently revealed story has attracted the interest of the cybersecurity community. Aleksey Burkov, 29, is a man from Russia who has spent the last four years of his life in Hadarim prison, in Israel without anyone noticing his presence too much, until now.
Little was known about Burkov outside the prison until last weekend the news broke that he was a hacker wanted by the Russian and US authorities. In addition, it is mentioned that his case is directly related to that of Naama Issachar, an Israeli woman who was sentenced to nearly 8 years in prison for carrying 9 grams of opium. Issachar was arrested in Russia, during a plane stopover after a holiday in India.
What is the link between the two of them? Well, it is now known that the Kremlin plans to “exchange” Issachar for Burkov and now it’s expecting the response of the Israeli government. However, it is still unknown why Burkov is considered such an important asset to the Russian government.
As a background, it is known that the US authorities investigated for years a website (cardplanet.cc), suspecting that their operators sold the details of the payment cards of more than 150k American citizens, fraud equivalent to more than $20M USD. Finally, in 2013 the US Secret Service investigation led to a young Aleksey Burkov, based in St. Petersburg, Russia.
A couple of years later, US authorities finally managed to issue an arrest warrant against Burkov, accusing him of fraud, identity theft, money laundering and hacking. In the indictment, US prosecutors claim that Burkov posted his website information on multiple dark web forums, mainly used by bank fraud operators, cybersecurity experts mention.
Although Burkov has not admitted any of the charges against him, cybersecurity specialist Elia Stcin claims that the defendant even dared to post in his blog a small manifesto in which he also admitted authorship of the crimes. “Burkov even released a snippet of the code he used to compromise victims’ computers and steal their information,” he adds.
Stcin doesn’t know if Burkov acted on his own or if the hacker worked for someone else. However, the expert states that Burkov actually has the skills, knowledge and experience required to perform such a complex task.
Finally, in December 2015, a US Secret Service agent began investigating an account on a Russian social network operated by Burkov using an alias. In this account, the hacker posted a screenshot of his PC, where the transaction page of the website from where he was selling the data of stolen cards could be seen.
Although US justice asked Israel for Burkov’s extradition, soon after, the Russian authorities also filed their extradition request, arguing that Burkov is wanted in Russia for electronic fraud. However, the Russian authorities’ request appears to be unfounded, as reported in various media and among the cybersecurity community.
While Burkov awaited the conclusion of this process, the young Israeli woman was arrested at a Russian airport. Although she initially faced possession charges, the Russian authorities suddenly changed their stance, bringing traffic charges against Issachar. Although specialists at the International Institute for Cyber Security (IICS) consider that it is virtually impossible to establish a connection between the two cases, the version that the Russian government is unofficially is still present pressured Israel to have Burkov extradited to Russia and not to the United States, where he would face severe condemnation for his cybercrimes.