Podcast – Digital Desperados 2: Securing Remote Work & Guarding Against Cyber Threats with Lessons from the Alexey Belan Breach



Rumble: https://rumble.com/v3qfx5s-episode-2-alexsey-belan-could-be-selling-your-information.html

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If you’d prefer to listen to this episode of Digital Desperados, you can listen back here:

Intro: This episode of the Digital Desperados podcast is brought to you by SaferNet VPN, found online at SaferNet. com.

Jim Brangenberg: Welcome to the Digital Desperados podcast featuring Dark Tales from the Web. Patrick McMurphy is here today to tell us our dark tales. I’m Jim Brangenberg and I’ll serve as your story guide.

And of course, Brad Hawkins joins us from SaferNet to tell us how they can save the day. You know, there’s just so many tools out there that can increase… Anyone’s online protection. But one of these tools is safer net and safer net is the complete solution to the cybersecurity threats faced by individuals, businesses, and families.

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These include internet filtering, monitoring, scheduling, and blocking access to websites or even entire website categories. Is there any reason you don’t get secured right now? I doubt it. Check out our affordable production at safer net. com. That’s safer net. com. All right, Patrick, which dark tale are you telling us about today?

Patrick McMurphy: Today I wanna talk about Alexi Balan, also known as Abeer ov. I’m just gonna call Alexi by his, his first name today, because I cannot pronounce that pseudonym. But Abe, you got Abe. Abe. Abe. Good. Good old Abe. Good old Alex Belan, Abe. So yeah, Alexi was primarily known for the Yahoo data breach.

And now these days when you talk about Yahoo, I mean if you get a lot of like. You know, Gen Z, they probably don’t even know what Yahoo is. But back then, mid 2000s, Yahoo was, it was bigger than Google, it was huge. And that data breach was the biggest in history at the time. It was half a, half a billion Yahoo accounts were compromised.

And what Alexei did… With these accounts is that he gained further information like credit card information and he, he would sell it on on the dark web and Alexei kind of, he, he was, he’s a good story about someone who’s really good at one specific thing. And that’s, that’s how we got his notary. So Alexei was born in 1987 in Latvia and like in our last episode, he he kind of grew up in, you know, that transition between.

U. S. S. O. R. the switch from communism to capitalism and it was funny because I wish I had this information in our last episode because I actually, I met some Ukrainians over the weekend and they were telling me what it was like growing up in that transitional stage. And it was just, there was a lot of things I didn’t know.

I mean, it was really, I mean, for example, one of the ladies, she, her father was an engineer with the Cosmonauts. And when the switch happened, he ended up working in just like a factory production line job. And it was, it was a complete tonal shift in life. So it’s a difficult time to grow up.

Jim Brangenberg: I just say, I gotta, I gotta counter you on one thing.

The shift from communism to capitalism. I don’t think so, Patrick. I’m not quite sure they might’ve done that on the outside. Mikhail Gorbachev might’ve said that’s what we’re going to do, but I don’t think that ever really happened because I don’t think Putin is much of a list.

Patrick McMurphy: Yeah, I, I, I, I, I agree. I mean, it’s, it’s, it’s not really capitalism is that it’s it’s going to distorted Russian take on, on

Brad Hawkins: their own, their own version of capitalism.

Patrick McMurphy: Yeah. I mean, you know, where Russia is still in control. Exactly, because I was, I was in China a number of years ago and you know, I went to China and this, you know, the idea was a communist and the first thing I see in China is this, I’m in, I’m in Beijing and I see a Lamborghini store and I was like, this doesn’t feel very communist.

A lot of these countries just kind of have their weird take on economics that you can’t really define well, but you know, it is what it is. All right, so back in alexis back to good old alexis good old good ole so alexis is kind of He’s kind of known since around 2006 because we know that because his, a lot of his monikers can be seen on hacking websites on dark web forms, especially inside pro and Zloy.

They were two really big dark websites back in the day. He was also blogging at the time using, using his good ole handle. And it’s funny because if you go back and read his blogs now. They’re so above board. He’s just talking about his day and things like that. And it’s kind of funny to see this hacker talk about he was walking his dog or something, you know, just real normal stuff.

But Alexei, he’s, he’s a bit of a small fry, but he’s, he’s starting to make a name for himself. So he kind of starts off with hacking Russian web. He eventually gets more international. He specifically starts targeting a lot of Israeli websites and what, what Alexei is really good at doing. Is that he gets into websites and he steals user account information.

He takes that information and sells it on the dark web. So he kind of really builds this reputation for himself where he can crack any website. And he, Alexi gets known for his…

Brad Hawkins: Patrick, do you know roughly how old he was when he was starting this? Or before he got his notoriety, do you know anything about his history?

Patrick McMurphy: Yeah, he would have been about 19 at the time there’s not a, there’s not a lot known about his childhood except that we know he, he had close ties to Russia, so it’s possible that a parent of his may have been Russian or something like that, but he was always, I mean, even though he was born in Latvia, he was definitely very close to Russia, so there, there’s, I think there’s a possibility there’s some family ties there.

Brad Hawkins: Yeah, that’s, that’s what always amazes me when we look at some of these real notorious hackers, you think it’s like, you know, like old mafia people, but no, they’re, they’re typically just super young and super smart and, and they can, they can do almost anything, but yet they choose to to operate in this way.

But anyway, I go, go ahead. I was just in the background.

Patrick McMurphy: You’re, you’re right. Yeah, you’re right for sure. And you kind of, you kind of questioned, you know, Was it just these young men didn’t was there no opportunities for them that they decided to go down this? I mean, it’s a it’s a pretty dark path, you know I mean, if there was a better opportunity, yeah, dark path, dark web.

But I mean, you know, if there was more opportunities for them. If their family life had been different, would they end up, you know, going on to university and, you know, studying mathematics and things like this? But Alex was really good at being evasive online. He, he, he really had a knack for invading detection.

All his communication was encrypted. He really messed up with digital forensics. Like you couldn’t, you couldn’t track this guy. This guy was, he was really hard to get a hold of. I mean, even Once he kind of got access to a website, he would really delve deep into the network infrastructure of the website.

It just made him really, really difficult to track. I know at the time, if you guys can remember back then WordPress kind of first hit the headlines. WordPress became phenomenally popular. And Alexei was the only guy, kind of only popular guy, who was really good at hacking WordPress. He could get into any WordPress site.

And so he, that’s, that’s how he really got his reputation. If you wanted to, if you wanted to hack a WordPress site, you had to contact Alexei on one of these forums. Yeah, it was, it was crazy, but what Alexey started doing, you know, he realized that the big fish at this point where the U S e commerce websites and a lot of them were hosted a lot, a lot of the WordPress sites were using things like Shopify and other platforms to sell their stuff.

I don’t know anything. I mean, their products on their WordPress sites. But, you know, if you start, you know, kind of poking the bear as it is with targeting U. S. websites, the government are going to, are going to notice after a while. And at the time, Alexei was living in Greece and the U. S. noticed him and they said, we got to get rid of this guy.

They put out an international warrant on him. In fact, the FBI had a hundred thousand dollar bounty on his head. And so they also put on an Interpol red note.

Brad Hawkins: I just have to say, what a. I hate to say it this way, but what a genius move hacking WordPress because you can, you can bypass, if you get in one, you’ve got access to all of these websites and for those people that dunno, WordPress is a, is basically a, a, a site that you can go in and, and create a, a, a webpage or, or, yeah, a full website.

And, and they, they host your website, and they, you, you do all your work for your website on WordPress. And so, thousands and thousands of websites on there, and all he has to do is, is hack into WordPress, and then he has access to all of these websites. Honestly, that’s, it’s it’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

But that’s, I, I didn’t realize that, so anyway. I’ve never shot the barrel.

Jim Brangenberg: I have thrown, you know, an M 80 into a lake that’s similar shooting.

Patrick McMurphy: I mean, we do that in Ireland for fun, Jim, you know, I mean, we’re all fishing barrels throwing TNT and fish barrels.

Brad Hawkins: It goes along with the same ethical lines.

Patrick McMurphy: Yes. Okay. All right. Well, we didn’t shoot fish and bar, but I’ll tell you what I did do growing up. So, you know there’s not a lot of guns in Ireland. Which is not really gun culture, but my dad managed to get his hands on a gun. And so we used to buy, we would go to the store and we’d buy like ten bottles of deodorant.

And people would be like, why are these two guys buying all this deodorant? And we’d take them to a field and we used to shoot them. Because if you shoot a bottle of deodorant, the thing explodes. And I was like five years old doing this as well. Probably not the safest thing for a five year old to do in retrospect, but.

Yeah, but we didn’t shoot fish in a barrel. We didn’t shoot the ocean down a good distance. It was a nice shot. It was a good shot. It’s a shame I wasn’t raised in America, honestly.

Jim Brangenberg: Yeah, and speaking of taking a good shot at things, you know, if you want to take a shot at your cyber security, you need to talk about SaferNet.

Brad, how could SaferNet help protect somebody who’s got a WordPress site? Is that something SaferNet can help with?

Brad Hawkins: Well, actually if he’s getting into WordPress and, and then messing around in WordPress it, it is a different type of security. So what we, we protect is the endpoint device. We protect all computers tablets cell phones, whatever it is.

We protect those type of things. But getting into WordPress, that’s, that’s more of a a. A level of of creative hacking that we, we don’t, we don’t mess with, but truthfully, the average person out there is, does not have a WordPress height. They’re, they’re out there. Using these wordpress sites, but they’re not, they’re not using those.

And we’re, we’re more of a cybersecurity company for everybody as opposed to companies that hold their, their website in a wordpress.

Patrick McMurphy: Very good. All right. So, yeah, sorry. Go ahead, Jim.

Jim Brangenberg: No, no, come on. You’re going to jump in on there.

Patrick McMurphy: Go ahead. No, yeah. I was, I was just going to add, I mean, you know, I’ve run a lot of.

I’ve run a lot of WordPress. I used to have a hockey blog. In fact, I dedicated most of my free time to writing about ice hockey. But I will add with SaferNet, if you’re running anything like a blog on, on, on WordPress, you know, you get comments. You, excuse me, you get comments on your blogs. And you’ve got a lot of stuff in the contact form and 99 percent of it is going to be fishing links.

And if you say for now, and you’ve got one of these links and you click it safe, that has your back a hundred percent. So it’s definitely helpful to have, I think, if you are running any kind of WordPress.

Jim Brangenberg: Yeah. I recently installed safe for that on my mom’s computer. She’s 89 and I got to tell you it, it, when she likes to click on those really pretty links, it keeps her from going places.

It keeps going to those places that the naughty people send her. All right, back to Greece. We’ve got it. We’ve got an international

Patrick McMurphy: back to Alexei. Poor Alexei. We almost forgot about Alexei. A

Jim Brangenberg: hundred thousand dollar reward doesn’t sound like very much, but because he’s probably making a lot of other people a lot more money than that.

Patrick McMurphy: Well, what happened? Yeah. So you got, he’s in Greece. You got the Interpol red notice, all the cops that are in any country that’s aligned

with the U S they’re looking from. And so. Alexei actually gets arrested by the Greece, the Greek authorities. And now, here’s a very funny point. He somehow escaped from the police, but it’s not known how.

And I’ve always kind of had it in my head, that he’s in this kind of comedic scene where he’s in the back of a police car and he like, shuttles out the window or something, but it’s not actually known how he got away from the cops, but he did.

Brad Hawkins: First of all, I think that’s pretty clear. He’s, he’s discussing the 100, 000 reward and and how about a million if you, if you just walk away right now,

Patrick McMurphy: I mean,

Brad Hawkins: it’s amazing what happens when you have have a few extra dollars sitting in your bank account and they’re offering a hundred grand as a reward, so.

Patrick McMurphy: Yeah, but they are known for their love of certain brown envelopes. So, you know, I mean, look, whatever happened,

Jim Brangenberg: all right. So getting back to the story escapes from the authorities.

Patrick McMurphy: Yeah, so he escapes from the authorities and Alexei’s first thought is, I need to go to Russia because he knows, I mean, he’s a lot of friends in the hacking community, he knows that Russia is kind of a safe haven at this point for hackers.

So he gets over to Russia and the first thing he does is get in contact with the FSB, which is a very clever move by Alexei, in fairness to him, to give him credit. And so the FSB recruit him, you know, they may have coerced them, but I think they probably just realized they had a good guy on their hands to work with, so.

He partners up with two FSB agents, Dmitry Dukachev and Igor Shushkin. And so, Russia at this point, they’re very interested in Yahoo accounts, because there’s a lot of foreign dignitaries who are using Yahoo, and they really want to get into Yahoo accounts. And they know that Alexei is very specifically good at just hacking websites.

And so Alexei, with these two agents, they basically send them on a mission to… Again, access to a huge amount of accounts that are targets of interest to Russian intelligence. So we’re talking about there’s ministers for economic development, diplomats from other nations, investigative reporters, especially employees of certain us companies like, you know, cloud storage companies.

There’s a Nevada gaming official. I don’t know that the guys want to go to Vegas for a weekend or something, but there’s things like senior officials and us airlines. There’s, there’s all these kinds of guys, right? And so Alexia and the two agents, what they specifically do is spear phishing. And so spear phishing is when you know someone in a certain company, let’s say a CEO or a CFO, especially, they get an email saying, Hey, this is your, you know, accountant or whatever, please click on this link.

I mean, look, they’re going to be a lot more elaborate than that. You know, I’m obviously, I was never good at spear phishing myself, but you know, this is, this is what they’re doing to get access to these accounts. And so, while Alexei is working doing this for the FSB, he’s also moonlighting hacking other Yahoo accounts.

And so, he does crazy stuff. You know, people talk about SEO these days, you know, search engine optimization. And you know, there’s, I mean, Brad and I know there’s whole companies out there that are dedicated to SEO. Alexi is so good at SEO that he hacks the Yahoo search algorithm. So anytime you search things like pharmacy online, all you get is his affiliate links.

The guy just masters it. So, I mean, if you ever need SEO, talk to Alexi because He’s on to something.

Jim Brangenberg: We are not recommending here on the digital desperadoes podcast. We’re not recommending that you try to contact Alexi. We think that would be a bad idea.

Patrick McMurphy: Yeah, please do. I, please do not bring me to court.

If you try to contact Alexi and your bank account is gone the next day. It’s, it’s not my fault, but he is really good at SEO. But I suppose during all this, all, all the, the moonlight that he’s doing, he actually gains access to half a billion Yahoo accounts, which is just insane. It’s actually the biggest hack at the time.

And so he’s just selling all this information online. He’s kind of. He’s also orchestrating other phishing attacks based off the account information he gets,

like, for example, if he got access to his CEO, he’d then be emailing the CTO, etc. And yeah, I mean, that’s really Alexei. He’s still at large.

Now, he’s not been in the headlines for a couple of years, but a lot of these guys haven’t because it’s kind of assumed right now they’re probably working on the whole war in Ukraine situation. But yeah, he’s still hacking. He’s still hacking WordPress. He’s still with those two FSB agents. That’s Alexi Balan.

Brad Hawkins: Well, it’s, it’s, it’s absolutely amazing to, to think about the cover that Russia’s providing these guys to allow them to just, just do what they do.

Patrick McMurphy: It’s crazy.

Brad Hawkins: And, and the fact that, that it’s, it, it’s a known thing that, man, if you’re in trouble, , you know where to go. But yeah, that’s, that’s just amazing.

Patrick McMurphy: I’m just saying,

Jim Brangenberg: I’m not going to Russia. I don’t care. Maybe you’re probably safer in prison in the United States. Pretty sure. I don’t know. Or, or you could just go to Montana. They can’t find you there anyway. All right. Not that we’re talking about authorities, but we are talking about evading those people who are coming at you from the dark web, safer net can be there for you.

On all your devices 65 web filtering vpn It is there for you it’s it there’s just so many pieces of what they do But being able to monitor to be able to control Where your family goes to be able to control where your employees go To be able to make sure that when you click on a link if it goes to a naughty place that it just doesn’t go That’s the power of safer net go online to safer net.

com safer net. com Patrick and brad. Thanks for being here today. Thanks for bringing us the story. Thank you. Thanks for having me lexi Great, jim. Thank you. Yeah, you bet you bet you heard it here, the internet and everything digital can have a dark side with many dark players That’s why you need safer net on your side Thanks to safer net for supporting our efforts of bringing these stories to your ears and giving them the exposure that they need Please for your own security and your safety for those that you love and those that you work with check out safer net.

com Get secure today. Till next time, click only on the attachments and the links you trust from those you trust and delete the rest or you may become the next victim of a Digital Desperado.

Outro: This episode of the Digital Desperados podcast is brought to you by SaferNet VPN found online at SaferNet. com Business owners, listen up. Criminals and search engines do not need to know everything you do on the internet. SaferNet VPN ensures your company’s safety with its powerful cybersecurity defenses.

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And there you have it, Cyber Crusaders! Another episode of Digital Desperados has come to a close. We’ve journeyed through the eerie backstreets of the internet and emerged wiser and ready to fortify our digital domains. As we log off, let’s not forget the golden rule of secure remote work: vigilance is non-negotiable.

In a world where our office can be anywhere from a kitchen table to a desk on the other side of the globe, SaferNet VPN stands as your unwavering guard against the unseen marauders of the internet. It’s not just about locking doors; it’s about building an impenetrable citadel around your online presence.

As you step back into your daily grind, remember that SaferNet VPN is more than just a shield; it’s a commitment to secure remote work that empowers you to conquer the digital realm with confidence. Don’t leave your digital safety to chance; stride boldly with SaferNet by your side.

Until our next cyber saga, keep your connections secure, your data encrypted, and your remote work seamless with SaferNet. Check out SaferNet.com to bolster your defenses and join the ranks of entrepreneurs, remote warriors, and digital families who choose not just to survive, but to thrive online.

Stay safe, stay connected, and stay secure. Because when it comes to remote work, ‘secure’ is the only way we roll. Catch you on the digital flip side!