Indian cyber mercenaries are hacking parties involved in lawsuits around the world, according to a treasure trove of thousands of email records found by Reuters, demonstrating how paid spies have evolved into the go-to tactic for litigants looking for an advantage. Carlo Pacileo, the bodyguard, was facing increasing pressure.
In the midst of a barrage of lawsuits, Pacileo claimed that his boss, a direct sales entrepreneur by the name of Ryan Blair, needed compromising information against a competing company. There was no response.
So he went to a Silicon Valley investigator he knew from his time serving with the American mercenary company Blackwater in Afghanistan. Days later, Nathan Moser, a former deputy sheriff from North Carolina, showed up at Pacileo’s Hollywood apartment with a duffle bag full of spy gear.
Moser displayed a number of devices to Pacileo, including listening devices developed in Israel that could be concealed in ceilings or beneath televisions. One service, in particular, caught my attention: Moser claimed to know an Indian hacker who could access emails. Pacileo recently told Reuters that “my ears perked up.” “I had no idea you could accomplish that kind of thing.”
Moser was given the position and a $10,000 monthly retainer after confirming Pacileo’s story. He started working for Blair’s diet shake distributor ViSalus, which was suing salespeople who had defected to join a rival company called Ocean Avenue.
Sumit Gupta, a young computer security expert from India, began hacking into the email accounts of Ocean Avenue executives around February 2013. He sent screenshots and passwords to his ViSalus handlers on the West Coast.
Ocean Avenue filed a federal complaint in Utah against ViSalus after becoming aware of the snooping, accusing the company of hacking, extortion, and intimidation. ViSalus initially contended that its rival had not offered sufficient proof to support its claims; it eventually settled the lawsuit on an unknown basis.
Executives from ViSalus did not respond to requests for comment. Reuters sent unanswered messages to Blair, who was not mentioned as a defendant in the lawsuit, and they were marked as “seen.” He ignored certified letters delivered to his Los Angeles residence and place of business.
The dispute was not resolved by the agreement. After the breach was discovered, the Federal Bureau of Investigation sent officers to search the houses of Pacileo and Moser in February 2015. Both ultimately entered guilty pleas for computer offenses related to the intrusions on Ocean Avenue. Hacking the ‘real truth’
International arbitrators deciding the future of major Nigerian oil resources received a shocking email on June 11.
A legal dispute pitting the Nigerian government against the heirs of Italian billionaire Vittorio Fabbri over ownership of the Pan Ocean Oil Corporation Ltd. appeared to be derailed by the message, which was headlined “The actual truth about Pan Ocean Oil vs Nigeria.”
In 1983, Fabbri acquired the business, enabling him to pump crude oil in the OML-98 field block in the Niger Delta. He was later forced out of the company in favor of local management due to a power dispute. He passed away in 1998, and his heirs fought to regain control, eventually accusing government officials of supporting efforts to oust them.
The International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes, situated in Washington, mediates legal disputes between investors and governments, and the Fabbris took their dispute there in 2013.
Vittorio Fabbri’s son, Patrizio, told Reuters that it was an attempt to get the lawsuit out of the cumbersome Nigerian courts and get $1.5 billion in damages. But Torgbor has voiced worries about the leak. He cautioned that accepting materials of “dubious character” constituted a “severe risk” to the tribunal’s legitimacy in a minority opinion from 2018.
“How does the Tribunal ascertain or unearth the real truth’ from an unidentified individual whose own identity and probity are concealed?” Lawyers all across the world are increasingly wrestling with similar issues as India’s mercenary hacking industry expands.
Reuters started searching through a database of more than 80,000 emails that Indian hackers had sent between 2013 and 2020 as the judgment was being drafted. The information, which Reuters obtained solely, offers a split-second peek at who the cyber mercenaries targeted in court cases around the world.
In essence, it’s a hit list. Azima was highly featured. Beginning in March 2015, the Indian hackers actively tried to access the businessman’s emails. According to the data, accounts belonging to Azima’s colleagues, attorneys, and acquaintances were also investigated.
Azima began his own investigation when Reuters approached him for comment.
His legal team searched his inbox and the inboxes of his colleagues and discovered more than 700 fraudulent emails that had been sent over just a 16-month period.
His data was compromised, according to Azima’s legal team, around March 2016. In later court documents, Azima’s attorneys claimed that Indian IT companies BellTroX Infotech Services Private Ltd and CyberRoot Risk Advisory Private Ltd were responsible for the espionage campaign.
According to court documents, CyberRoot’s hackers used blogs with the titles “Farhad Azima Scammer” and “Farhad Azima Exposed Again” to publish Azima’s stolen emails on anonymous websites. Halabi claimed he unintentionally came upon one of those websites in August 2016.
Late this month, RAKIA made an effort to withdraw from the case.
RAKIA claimed in a letter to the High Court dated June 22 and examined by Reuters that it had parted ways with its attorneys and was no longer defending Azima’s claim, instead making a “$1 million plus fees” settlement offer to the CEO. Despite claiming that it “did not authorize or procure any hacking of Mr. Azima’s data,” the investment firm noted that it might have been a victim of “dishonest and unscrupulous third party advisers.” Dominic Holden, Azima’s attorney, said simply that the settlement “would have to reflect the magnitude and gravity of the wrongdoing” without stating if the billionaire would accept the proposal.
The case’s abrupt turnaround has attracted interest. According to Tim Maltin, a spokesman for Azima, at least five additional attorneys and businessmen have gotten in touch with Azima’s legal team because they believe they were also the targets of Indian hackers during different court cases.
Azima told Reuters in an email that American law enforcement needed to take greater action to discourage hackers from targeting lawyers. Azima was writing from his home in Missouri.
“Hackers, investigators, and the law firms they are directing are making millions of dollars from these criminal acts,” he claimed. Although the hacking-for-hire businesses may be located hundreds of miles abroad, American people frequently become victims on American soil.