During the investigation of “the largest and the most complex identity theft in the U.S. history” a Belarusian Sergey Pavlovich first came to the attention of the investigation. He was later found guilty to the sale of the stolen credit and debit card numbers for fraudulent use. In 2008 a group of 11 people from different countries were charged with numerous crimes, connected with hacking of a number of retailers and stealing data of 200 million credit cards. The brain of the operations was Albert Gonzalez, who doubled as American intelligence agencies’ informer. According to the American authorities, the losses caused by “11 friends of Gonzalez” exceeded a billion US dollars. The book is based on real events and is written during its author’s 10-year prison sentence.
No man is rich enough to buy back his past.
The most important criterion of a business is its profit,
and cybercrime is no exception.
Eugene Kaspersky, CEO and Co-Founder of Kaspersky Lab,
one of world’s leading cybersecurity experts
Foreword to the English edition
I wrote this book in prison, much of it on a banned mobile phone. It was my survival strategy: I kept working on the book, asking for an early parole and doing everything to make sure my pleas reached the ears of those who mattered. Writing helped me stay sane, distance myself from day-to-day worries and forget the bastards with whom I was surrounded.
My wife at the time believed this book was written for her. My mother thought I’d put my story on paper because I had to keep myself busy. My best friend says I am crazy to be sharing thatkind of information. He thinks even jail can’t satiate my hunger for fame. And they’re all right in their different ways. It was first published in Russian in 2013, while I was still behind bars.
I need to say straight up that title of the English edition is not completely accurate. Strictly speaking, I am neither Russian, nor a hacker.
I was born and grew up in Belarus, the country many like to refer to as the “last dictatorship in Europe.” And while I dabbled in hacking, I wasn’t strictly speaking a hacker — I was what is known as a carder, a cyber-lord whoturned stolen credit card information into money.
But I operated in the Russian-speaking hacking world that was concentrated in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus during the first flowering of Slavic cyber-crime, and worked with some of the biggest cyber-criminals who moved easily between these three countries — so the “Russian hacker” label is not entirely inappropriate.
Before I came to the attention of the Belarusian police and the FBI, my online friends knew me as PoliceDog. For a few years I had more money than I knew what to do with. Aged 20, I was earning $100,000 a month — an unbelievable sum in Belarus in the early 2000s. I also tried my hand at spam, pornography and many other cyber-crime sidelines.
Had myfriends and I had begun life in a different country and at a different time,many of us could have been bank employees, businessmen or owners of companies. Some, of course, would still have become criminals. But we were born in the Soviet Union at the turn of an epoch and we became adults in the 1990s when old moral values had been rejected and new ones hadn’t yet appeared. We became cyber-criminals not because we were naturals, but because of the times: our parents were working two or three jobs to make ends meet, and we, the kids, were left on our own. No-one told us stealing was a sin, and even if they did, no one bothered to explain why. But everyone around us was stealing, from civil servants to businessmen:and almost everyone got away with it. Why couldn’t we do the same? Who stopped us and showed us what wasright? We spent days sitting in front of computers (they appeared first in the families of scientists, engineers, university professors) and we devoted ourselves to the first thing we discovered on the Internet. We numbed our feeling of guilt with the idea we weren’t targeting anyone personally, only large companies and governments, that we were a band of merry Robin Hoods. Someone even came up with the term “economic guerillas”: we steal in the West and spend at home. Psychologically it’s not hard to convince yourselfthat you’re not doing anything wrong.
Like most, I ended up in prison, where I was lucky to spend only a decade. My beautiful wife left me. My mother aged with grief rather than time. My friends started seeing me as a ghost, someone they had nothing to talk to about. You don’t share joy from your child’s birthday or your summer trip with a ghost — it’s too awkward.
In 2015, I was released — aged 31.
It may sound crazy, but I’m grateful for those lost years: for getting time to think and analyze my life and everything I had done before jail. I began to understand the true value of my nearest and dearest, of myself and of my life.
This book is about my time as a successful cyber-criminal and my experience in the Belarusian penal system, which has changed little since the Soviet Union. The events and people are real. The way they are depicted, however, is my own. I’ve changed a few names and removed some altogether. I’ve softened some things and embellished others — it’s something all authors do. It is up to you to decide if I can be trusted. Read — and draw your own conclusions.
Moscow, April 2018