Inside Hackerville: The world’s biggest cyber crime hub

Inside Hackerville: The world’s biggest cyber crime hub

It’s a seemingly innocent city at the foot of the Transylvanian Alps, three hours outside of the Romanian capital of Bucharest. There are meadows with classic European houses, chickens clucking away in front yards and picturesque grassy fields fit for a postcard.

It’s a city called Ramnicu Valcea. But to law enforcement agencies across the world, it goes by another name: Hackerville.

While on the outskirts it may seem like an innocent town, the streets are filled with expensive cars and retailers due to its rich residents, who make their money stealing off the internet. Over a billion dollars was stolen last year by cyber criminals in Romania, with most in Ramnicu Valcea.

Known more for its antivirus software, security company Norton filmed a documentary on the town, labelling it as “the most dangerous town on the internet”.

Three of the world’s most notorious hackers hail from Hackerville, including Guccifer, who was responsible for hacking into the personal computers of former US president George W Bush, Hillary Clinton and the Rockefellers. Meanwhile, Robert Bukya (aka Iceman) hacked NASA and Razvan Manole Cernaianu (aka Tinkode) breached the Pentagon.

The journey for the hackers in “Hackerville” started like most others. They were younger, the internet was new and people had no idea that having a password as simple as “12345678” left them extremely vulnerable.

From there, they either went two routes. To learn the skills needed to become proper blackhat hackers that breach big government and company databases or to become scammers that rip people off on sites like eBay. Most became the latter.

Online crime out of Ramnicu Valcea became extremely widespread in 2002, with cyber criminals taking advantage of internet cafes that offered cheap internet access to post fake ads on eBay. The original scams were pretty simple and involved simply posting ads online for products they didn’t own and having the money wire-transferred by unlucky foreigners.

It wasn’t long before both eBay and law enforcement officials caught on and the scammers had to innovate.

Their next scheme was to create legitimate-looking websites and advertise things such as used cars at extremely low prices. They would then pose as US soldiers stationed overseas with a vehicle in storage back home that needed to be sold. The scammers even had American bank accounts and phone numbers set up so it seemed less suspicious. At first, they would ask for an advance payment for a vehicle that didn’t exist. Word then caught on about the scammers, so they changed their story to ask for no payment except “shipping”.

While the online scammers of Hackerville did their damage to individuals across the world, the real problems are caused by the blackhat hackers that call the city home.

They’re extremely talented individuals that hack into systems across the world for one of two reasons: because they can, or because they’re getting paid.

No one is safe. Iceman claims he hacked NASA’s main servers just to “feel powerful”, while Tinkode claims he has hacked everyone from Google and Facebook to the US Government.

Guccifer, claims he hacked into accounts owned by Hillary Clinton and George W Bush simply because he wanted to know the truth. Those hacks, which are still damaging Ms Clinton’s 2016 presidential run, have earned him seven years in a Romanian jail. He doesn’t regret it, but he doesn’t feel it’s fair.

“[Hacking] is not about the money; I feel like what I do is good,” he told Norton.

“Yet I am here in prison for seven years for [hacking] two email accounts.”

The unanimous message for the Western world from all three hackers though is that we all need to open our eyes.

“Something is going to come to [Westerners] this year,” Guccifer said. Tinkode added: “More than 80 per cent of servers across the world are vulnerable. It’s just a matter of time.”

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