Nine people indicted for hacking press releases, making millions in illegal trades

As part of the bust, officials seized 17 bank and brokerage accounts for more than $6.5 million.

Nine people were indicted on Tuesday, accused of hacking press releases with financial information for several businesses and using it to profit more than $30 million from illegal trades, authorities said.

The nine defendants allegedly hacked into three business newswires and stole confidential information, according to the U.S. attorney’s offices of New Jersey and the eastern district of New York.

They stole about 150,000 press releases from servers, including for Home Depot, Panera Bread Co., and Hewlett-Packard. They made trades based on more than 800 of them before they were publicly released.

“In today’s day and age, criminals are using computers instead of guns to steal money and threaten the safety and security of our cyber networks,” U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said in a statement. “In matters of cybersecurity, the Department of Homeland Security has a major law enforcement role, and our work to counter cyber threats is a critical priority for the Secret Service because of the substantial threat it poses to this nation’s financial infrastructure.”

This is largest scheme of its kind to ever be prosecuted, authorities said. Charges included wire fraud, securities fraud, and money laundering.

The scheme, charged in a 23-count indictment, allegedly started when two computer hackers based in Ukraine got in to the computer networks of the three companies. From February 2010 to August 2015, they stole information on earnings, gross margins, and revenues, authorities said.

“I’m hacking prnewswire.com,” one of the hackers allegedly said in an online chat message in Russian.

They shared “instructions” over email on how to use an oversees server to share the stolen releases with traders. The trades then allegedly created “shopping lists” or “wish lists.”

The defendants lived all over the world, including Brooklyn, Pennsylvania and Ukraine.

As part of the bust, officials Tuesday seized 17 bank and brokerage accounts for more than $6.5 million. They also looked to restrain a dozen properties, including a Pennsylvania shopping center and a Georgia apartment.

Alison Fox