gabe at seul.org
Fri Jul 8 09:22:27 PDT 2005
Don't know how many of you saw this...
In the stolen-data trade, Moscow is the Wild East
By GRAEME SMITH
Tuesday, July 5, 2005 Updated at 8:40 AM EDT
>From Tuesday's Globe and Mail
MOSCOW b The most expensive wares in Moscow's software markets, the
items that some Russians are calling a threat to their personal safety,
aren't on public display.
It takes less than 15 minutes to find them, however, at the teeming
Gorbushka market, a jumble of kiosks selling DVDs, CD-ROMs and an array
of gadgetry in an old factory west of downtown.
One question -- Where can we buy databases of private information? --
and the young man selling rip-off copies of Hollywood movies leaps to
his feet. He leads the customers to another vendor, who wears a bull's
head on his belt buckle. This second man listens to the request, opens
his cellphone, and punches a speed-dial number.
Moments later, a third vendor appears. He is jovial and blunt about his
"What do you need?" he says. "We have everything."
In Moscow these days, among people who deal in stolen information, the
category of everything is surprisingly broad.
This Gorbushka vendor offers a hard drive with cash transfer records
from Russia's central bank for $1,500 (Canadian).
The information was reportedly stolen by hackers earlier this year and
purchased by companies looking for details about their competitors.
Such information, the vendor admits, is fairly specialized. A more
popular item is tax records, including home addresses and declared
incomes. The vendor asks $215.
Russians routinely lie about their earnings to avoid taxes; nonetheless,
an increasing number of criminals are relying on pirated tax information
to help them choose wealthy targets.
When gunmen broke into the gated home of Mikhail Pogosyan, head of
Russian aerospace giant Sukhoi, in a brazen robbery last week, the
businessman immediately blamed the proliferation of his personal details
on the black market.
"Before, robberies of such people happened very seldom, just by chance,"
says a Sukhoi spokesman, Alexei Poveschenko. "Criminals preferred not to
deal with VIPs, but now it's different. On every corner you can buy a
database with all kinds of information: income, telephones, cars,
The trade shows no signs of slowing. It's part of a broader problem for
Russia as the country lobbies for membership in the World Trade
Organization by next year, because the international body wants Russia
to crack down on its pirated movies, music and software.
Local authorities have swept through markets such as Gorbushka and
seized thousands of bootleg discs, but within hours the black markets
At the Gorbushka kiosk, sales are so brisk that the vendor excuses
himself to help other customers while the foreigner considers his
options: $43 for a mobile phone company's list of subscribers? Or $100
for a database of vehicles registered in the Moscow region?
The vehicle database proves irresistible. It appears to contain names,
birthdays, passport numbers, addresses, telephone numbers, descriptions
of vehicles, and vehicle identification (VIN) numbers for every driver
A check of The Globe and Mail's information shows that at least one part
of the database is accurate. It's impossible to confirm the millions of
other entries, although a few famous names stand out.
An entry under the name Mikhail Khodorkovsky, with the same patronymic
middle name and birthday as the oil tycoon, suggests that Russia's
formerly richest man enjoyed zooming around on a grey 1999 Yamaha TW 125
motorcycle, or a 2000 light-blue BMW F650, before he was thrown in jail.
Under the name Yuri Luzhkov, with details that seem identical to those
of Moscow's powerful mayor, the list of vehicles includes a black 1997
Harley Davidson motorcycle and a green Gaz 69, a military jeep built in
The Gorbushka vendor seems pleased with his sale, but puzzled. As his
customers walk away, he says: "So tell me: Are you an American spy?"
He gets a question in reply: "What? You'd sell your homeland so
The vendor laughs, and returns to his work.
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