Category Archives: Dimplomaticos

How to Steal a Million: The Memoirs of a Russian Hacker

As a University researcher specializing in cybercrime, I've had the opportunity to watch the Russian carding market closely and write about it frequently on my blog "Cybercrime & Doing Time."  Sometimes this leads to interactions with the various criminals that I have written about, which was the case with Sergey.  I was surprised last January to be contacted and to learn that he had completed a ten year prison sentence and had written a book.   I have to say, I wasn't expecting much.  This was actually the third time a cybercriminal had tried to get my interest in a book they had written, and the first two were both horrible and self-promotional.  I agreed to read his first English draft, which he sent me in January 2017.

I was absolutely hooked from page 1.  As I have told dozens of friends since then, his story-telling vehicle is quite good.  The book starts with him already in prison, and in order to teach the reader about carding and cybercrime, a lawyer visits him periodically in prison, providing the perfect foil  needed to explain key concepts to the uninitiated, such as interrupting one of Sergey's stories to ask "Wait.  What is a white card?"
My copy of the book!

As someone who has studied cybercrime for more than 20 years, I was probably more excited than the average reader will be to see so many names and criminal forums and card shops that I recognized -- CarderPlanet, and card shop runners such as Vladislav Khorokhorin AKA BadB, Roman Vega AKA Boa, and data breach and hacking specialists like Albert Gonzalez and Vladimir Drinkman who served as the source of the cards that they were all selling.  These and many of the other characters in this book appeared regularly in this blog.  (A list is at the bottom of this article)

Whether these names are familiar to the reader or not, one can't help but be drawn into this story of intrigue, friendship, and deception as Pavlovich and his friends detect and respond to the various security techniques that shopkeepers, card issuers, and the law enforcement world are using to try to stop them.  Sergey shows how a criminal can rise quickly in the Russian cybercrime world by the face-to-face networking that a $100,000 per month income can provide, jet-setting the world with his fellow criminals and using business air travel, penthouse hotel suites, cocaine and women to loosen the lips of his peers so he can learn their secrets., but he also shows how quickly these business relationships can shatter in the face of law enforcement pressure.

The alternating chapters of the book serve as a stark reminder of where such life choices lead, as Sergey reveals the harsh realities of life in a Russian prison.  Even these are fascinating, as the smooth-talking criminal does his best to learn the social structure of Russian prison and find a safe place for himself on the inside.  The bone-crushing beatings, deprivation of food and privacy, and the fear of never knowing which inmate or prison guard will snap next in a way that could seriously harm or kill him is a constant reminder that eventually everyone gets caught and when they do, the consequences are extreme.

Sergey's original English manuscript has been greatly improved with the help of feedback from pre-readers and some great editors. After my original read, I told Sergey "I LOVE the story delivery mechanism, and there are fascinating stories here, but there are a few areas that really need some work."  It's clear that he took feedback like this seriously.  The new book, released in May 2018, is markedly improved without taking anything away from the brilliant story-telling of a fascinating criminal career ending with a harsh encounter with criminal justice.

A purchase link to get the book from Amazon: How to Steal a Million: The Memoirs of a Russian Hacker

The book was extremely revealing to me, helping me to understand just how closely linked the various Russian criminals are to each other, as well as revealing that some brilliant minds, trained in Computer Science and Engineering, and left morally adrift in a land where corruption is a way of life and with little chance of gainful employment, will apply those brilliant minds to stealing our money.

I seriously debated whether I should support this book.  Many so-called "reformed" criminals have reached out to me in the past, asking me to help them with a new career by meeting with them, recommending their services, or helping them find a job.  It is a moral dilemma.  Do I lend assistance to a many who stole millions of dollars from thousands of Americans?  Read the book.  To me, the value of this book is that it is the story of a criminal at the top of his game, betrayed by his colleagues and getting to face the reality of ten years in a Russian prison.  I think the book has value as a warning -- "a few months or even a couple years of the high life is not worth the price you will pay when it all comes crashing down."

Links to selected blog articles that feature Pavlovich's cast of characters:

May 12, 2008 TJX and Dave and Busters - Maksym Yastremskiy (Maksik) Aleksandr Suvorov (JonnyHell) and Albert Gonzales (Segvec) and their role in the TJX Data Breach.

August 5, 2008 TJX Reminder: We Will Arrest You and We Will Send You To Jail - some of the legal aftermath of the case above.

August 8, 2008 TJX: the San Diego Indictments where the US government indicts:
  • SERGEY ALEXANDROVICH PAVLOVICH, aka Panther, aka Diplomaticos, aka PoL1Ce Dog, aka Fallen Angel, aka Panther757
  • DZMITRY VALERYEVICH BURAK, aka Leon, aka Graph, aka Wolf
  • SERGEY VALERYEVICH STORCHAK, aka Fidel
and charges them with violation of "18 USC Section 1029(b)(2) Conspiracy to Traffic Unauthorized Access Devices"

May 9, 2013 ATM Cashers in 26 Countries Steal $40M talks about BadB's role in "Unlimited" ATM cash-out schemes, and his arrest in 2010 and sentencing to 88 months in 2013.

Jan 14, 2014 Target Breach Considered in Light of Drinkman/Gonzalez Data Breach Gang talked about Albert Gonzales, Vladimir Drinkman, and how there seemed to be such a strong pattern of behavior - a script if you will - to how criminals were conducting the major data breaches of that time.

Jan 27, 2014 Roman Vega (CarderPlanet's BOA) Finally Gets His Sentence addressed the plight of Roman Vega, who had been drifting around in the American criminal justice system, unsentenced, from 2003 until 2013! Dmitry Golubov AKA Script, the "godfather of CarderPlanet" is also discussed in this post.