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Cypriot National Admits in U.S. Court to Extorting Website Owners

A Cypriot national has admitted in a United States court to hacking websites based in the U.S., stealing user data, and demanding ransom payments from the site owners to keep the data private.

The man, Joshua Polloso Epifaniou, 21, of Nicosia, Cyprus, the first Cypriot national to be extradited to the U.S., perpetrated the scheme between at least October 2014 and November 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice says.

According to court documents, during the scheme, Epifaniou was a teenage hacker. He would find potential targets by looking at website traffic rankings, and then steal personally identifiable information (PII) from them, with the help of co-conspirators.

The hacker targeted both user and customer databases, harvesting data of interest through exploiting security vulnerabilities or by obtaining the data from co-conspirators.

Once in possession of the PII, Epifaniou emailed the victim websites, threatening to make the stolen data public and demanding a ransom payment be made in crypto-currency.

Some of the hacker’s victims include an online sports news website in Atlanta, Georgia; a free online game publisher in Irvine, California; a hardware company in New York, New York; an online employment website in Innsbrook, Virginia; and Phoenix, Arizona-based Ripoff Report (ROR).

Prior to pleading guilty, Epifaniou paid approximately $600,000 in restitution to the victims. In the plea agreement, he agreed to forfeit $389,113 and roughly 70,000 euros to the government.

Epifaniou was indicted on September 19, 2017, on multiple counts of wire fraud conspiracy, wire fraud, computer fraud conspiracy, and extortion. He was also charged in a 24-count indictment transferred from the District of Arizona, and pleaded guilty to one count of computer fraud.

The hacker is scheduled for sentencing for March 3, 2021.

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