The article reads like a John le Carré spy thriller. (“Chasing the Phantom,” by Garrett Graff, Wired, April 2017, pgs. 52-63) Writer Garrett Graff recounts the hunt for the world’s most successful and notorious hacker, who, with his code, walks through bank vaults as if they were made of sand. No doubt, Hollywood has its writer’s at work on a pilot based on these true events. In the meantime, detectives remain in hot pursuit.
Be warned, this blog is a spoiler. Those who wish to follow the adventure Graff describes from start to finish should read his article. From the outset, I’m going to identify the master criminal. He is a 30-year-old upper class Russian who, until recently, lived in a resort town on the Black Sea and goes by the code name of Slavik. He has a wife, a daughter and the family enjoys boating. (Ibid pg. 61.) Slavik has been a hacker throughout his young life and, over time, he’s gathered about him a cadre of like-minded cyber criminals. He has been so successful at robbing banks from his outpost in Russia that innocent employees have suffered, the banks assuming the thefts had to be an inside job.
At one point, authorities seemed about to close in on Slavik so he went dark. He resurfaced in 2011 with a stronger system and a larger criminal organization behind him, The Business Club. This time he infected more computers than he could use for bank robberies, so he added a Ransom Ware business as a sideline. (Blog 3/1/2017) This, too, has proved to be profitable.
Alerted to Slavik’s reemergence, the most sophisticated computer detectives began their hunt anew. As Graff describes it, the struggle between Slavik and his pursuers sometimes looked like hand-to-hand combat. No sooner did authorities uncovered one nest of devious demons but the dark lord created others. What the white hats didn’t know was he had a secondary control layer in place. From there, he could view law enforcement activities and write code to thwart their efforts.
Amazed? “Wait There’s More! “as they say on cheesy, late night commercials. Slavik’s covert operation ran deeper than imagined. The crime gig turned out to be a cover, although a lucrative one. Slavik, it turns out, is a Russian spy — something Congress should chew on as it investigates foreign meddling in our recent elections.
Where is he now? Go ask Waldo. All we know is that 5 ,000 unidentified computers remain infected with his code, a silent army waiting to be recalled to life whenever he chooses. Lesson to be learned: life on the internet is a walk on the wild side and no place of sissies.