The U.S. will get a rare chance to prosecute one of the world’s most-wanted cybercriminal suspects with the extradition of a Turkish man accused of orchestrating a global operation to hack automated teller machines.
Ercan Findikoglu, 33, boarded a flight to New York on Tuesday after losing his fight against extradition from a German prison, according to a law enforcement official who asked for anonymity because the operation wasn’t yet public. He was arrested during a trip to Frankfurt by German authorities in December 2013 after eluding U.S. capture for five years.
Findikoglu allegedly organized a criminal operation that stole $40 million in cash from ATMs within 10 hours in February 2013 in New York City and 23 other countries, according to a ruling in his extradition case from the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany. The so-called unlimited cash out operations used hacked debit cards with withdrawal limits removed to make ATMs spew money.
Findikoglu was indicted on 18 criminal charges by the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, according to the German court. The indictment and a criminal complaint against him are sealed. Findikoglu’s lawyer in Frankfurt, Oliver Wallasch, declined to comment.
His extradition comes as President Barack Obama’s administration is under mounting pressure from lawmakers, industry executives and consumer advocates to do more to combat increasingly sophisticated and damaging criminal hacking attacks against U.S. companies and citizens.
Another hacker, Alex Yucel, was sentenced Tuesday to four years and nine months in a U.S. prison after pleading guilty to computer crimes. He sold malware to thousands of users in more than 100 countries that could be used to steal identities and secretly control computers.
“Even though it seems like the successes are rare, they are significant and they’re sending a message,” Jenny Durkan, former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington, said. “U.S. law enforcement is not throwing in the towel.”
Findikoglu is the latest example in U.S. efforts to extradite hackers. The U.S. also has extradited Roman Seleznev, a Russian suspected of being one of the world’s most prolific traffickers in stolen credit cards, and Vladimir Drinkman, a Russian charged with stealing 160 million credit-card numbers.
The German court said Findikoglu has been regarded as the most-wanted computer hacker in the world and may face more than 247 years in prison if convicted of all U.S. charges.
Loretta Lynch, former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York who is now the attorney general, led the prosecution of members of the New York cell for participating in the February 2013 operation.
The theft was “a massive 21st century bank heist that reached across the Internet and stretched around the globe,” Lynch said at the time, without naming Findikoglu as the mastermind.
Hackers broke into the computers of credit card processors and compromised prepaid debit card accounts by removing withdrawal limits and account balances, according to the U.S. Justice Department. The account numbers were given to hacker cells and encoded onto other cards to make the ATM withdrawals.
“In the place of guns and masks, this cybercrime organization used laptops and the Internet,” Lynch said. “Law enforcement is committed to moving just as swiftly to solve these cybercrimes and bring their perpetrators to justice.”
Other hacks allegedly engineered by Findikoglu include the theft of about $14 million in February 2011 through 15,000 ATM transactions in 18 countries and the theft of about $5 million in December 2012 through 5,700 transactions in 20 countries, according to the German court.
The hacking ring’s alleged victims include MasterCard Inc., National Bank of Ras Al-Khaimah PSC based in the United Arab Emirates, and Bank Muscat SAOG, Oman’s biggest bank by assets, according to the Justice Department. The U.S. Secret Service led the investigation of Findikoglu.