Personnel of the Exchange of Information – a trade portal for information ‘leaks’ – lift the veil on their work principles, collaboration with Shaltay-Boltay (Humpty Dumpty) and perspectives of the case against them. See the details in an exclusive CrimeRussia interview.
Recently it became known that new suspects are to appear in the criminal case against Anonymous International hacker group, better known as Shaltay-Boltay (Humpty Dumpty). More specifically, the Investigations Directorate of the Federal Security Service (FSB) of the Russian Federation is going to separate the case against the originators of the Exchange of Information– an online portal trading correspondence of officials and businessmen – from the other defendants. According to Rosbalt sources, the Exchange of Information has been created by Aleksander Glazastikov, an accountant for Shaltai Boltai, who is currently hiding in Estonia. The case against the vendors of compromising materials is to be initiated under Article 163 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (extortion).
The case against Shaltay-Boltay is complicated and controversial. Therefore, the CrimeRussia has contacted the Exchange of Information; in an exclusive interview its personnel told us about their partnership with the hacker group, relations with secret services, and revenues generated by their business.
− Recently the media have reported that the Exchange of Information has been created by Aleksander Glazastikov, a member of Anonymous International. Can you confirm or refute this information?
− This information is not true. None of Anonymous International members had participated in the creation of the Exchange of Information. We have started our collaboration only in the beginning of 2015 and it was limited to the sales of their information files. The first lot from Anonymous International was a data file with mail of Natalia Timakova.
According to the secret services, Glazastikov was the author of the idea to monetize the stolen databases, which resulted in the creation of the Exchange of Information. The FSB believes that over time, the Exchange of Information has established contacts with other suppliers of information, thus, increasing its revenues manyfold. According to the Rosbalt sources, Vladimir Anikeev, the leader of the hacker group, has stated that the majority of proceeds from the sales of ‘leaks’ had ended up in the pockets of Glazastikov and “unidentified persons”.
− Do you know anyone from Anonymous International (AI) personally?
− No, the personalities of Anonymous International were unknown to us. We have learned the last names of the suspected members of this group only recently, together with the general public, from media reports.
− What do you know about AI internal structure?
− Everything we know we know from the media. The entire work of our portal is based on anonymity. AI group was a vendor on our trading platform, and our interaction was limited to the sales of their lots. We did not need to know their internal structure to sell their data files.
− What is the approximate share of information provided by AI in the total volume of information?
− If we take the entire period of collaboration with AI (some 2 years), they had provided some 50–60% of the sold lots. New vendors appeared over time. Currently, there are no active auctions from AI on our portal.
− How do you think, is AI somehow related to the ‘leak’ of Vladislav Surkov’s mail?
− We do not know anything about this. One thing we can say is: there were no attempts to sell Surkov’s mail through our portal, neither from AI, nor from other vendors.
The ‘leak’ of mail of Vladislav Surkov, an Aide to the President, is considered to be one of the reasons behind the arrest of AI members; personal data of Surkov were posted on Cyberhunta.com, a Ukrainian hacker web site. According to the media, FSB investigators believe that AI members have obtained this information and then transferred it to their Ukrainian colleagues. This version explains treason charges laid against detained FSB officers Mikhailov and Dokuchaev.
− How do you think, what was the reason behind the arrest of AI? What do you think about the case against AI in general?
− We hope that they deal with this situation with minimal casualties. Being unaware of the reasons behind the arrest, we don’t want to read coffee grounds and make unsubstantiated speculations.
− Do you believe that the FSB and Mikhailov in particular had been supervising AI?
− We do not have such information.
− How do you think, could anyone from AI testify against the Exchange of Information?
− The Exchange of Information could be probably mentioned in the testimonies in a context that Anonymous International group had been offering its files for sale on our portal. Our relations were limited to this; therefore, no other factual testimonies are possible.
With regards to the media announcements that the FSB is allegedly going to initiate an extortion case against our portal, we would like to state with complete certainty: there were not and could not be such components of crime in our actions. Quite the opposite, we have always been intrinsically against such practices. Our files are purchased by third parties. If someone identifies himself as a subject to a file, we would simply deny him the right to buy this lot.
− When has your project started, and who were its originators?
− We – the people having nothing to do with Anonymous International group – were the originators of the Exchange of Information and still operate it. Due to obvious reasons, we can’t disclose our names.
In September 2014, we had created a pretty primitive web site to check the feasibility of the information trade concept. The sales algorithm was as follows: a vendor addresses us, provides an information file, we study it, assess it, provide our resume for it, and the lot is offered for sale. Despite the absence of advertisement, vendors have come to us. Several lots were sold following this algorithm. The concept was feasible. And we decided to take a serious approach to the creation of a new portal.
In a few months, a new site was created and re-branding performed; the portal has got a new name – Joker. In addition, we have altered the sales algorithm retaining only the moderator and guarantor functions for ourselves. Many people – both buyers and vendors – were uncomfortable with the fact that we also get access to the data files. Frankly speaking, we were uncomfortable with this as well – various secret services could be tempted to get access to us and consequently to the data files studied by us. The new algorithm excluded our familiarization with the information offered for sale.
Now the vendors upload their encrypted data files to our portal and provide lot descriptions themselves. When a buyer appears, we only ensure the fair fulfillment of obligations by the parties and act as a guarantor in the handover of the money.
− Do you have any links with law enforcement authorities or secret services? Did enforcement structures ever provide you with information for sale? Did you have any contacts with detained FSB officers Mikhailov and Dokuchaev?
− All parties interact with each other anonymously on our portal. Most probably, the secret services, due to their high awareness, are key players on the information market, and it is quite possible that some buyers or vendors are somehow linked with the secret services. But we do not have any accurate information in this regard because they all collaborate with us anonymously. Nobody had ever introduced himself to us as a representative of a special service. We have recently learned from the media about Mikhailov and Dokuchaev. We never had contacts with them.
− Suppose you have put up for sale a lot with personal information of an enforcement officer. His colleagues see the ad, contact you, and threaten with big problems if this lot is not removed. Your actions?
− We are always open to negotiations, but such a scenario is unlikely. Everybody understands that it is useless to put pressure on us. We do not hack or collect information; we are just an intermediary portal where vendors sell their information. Let us assume that we have removed the lot in the above situation. The vendor will always find a way to sell this data file. Therefore, there were no such requests in the past, and these are unlikely in the future.
− Do you receive information only from sources, or sometimes, in stagnant periods, you hack electronic mailboxes yourself?
− As a matter of principle, we do not hack nothing. We are satisfied with a modest income from the sales of data files; these are sold on a regular basis. Therefore, we work only with vendors of information and never act as vendors ourselves. This could harm our business.
− How many materials had been sold in a narrow circle of persons and never became available to the public?
− It is difficult to provide the specific number, but at least several dozens. The majority of the lots were sold at the private stage of the auction; only our permanent clients have access to it.
− What is the monthly revenue of the Exchange of Information?
− To the moment, the total volume of sales at the Exchange of Information is some 4800 bitcoins (the current bitcoin exchange rate is 71,139 rubles, therefore, the total turnover of the Exchange of Information is 342,622,203 rubles – the CrimeRussia). Our commission is 20%. We have been working for two years.
− How many people are in your staff? Do all the group members work in Russia?
− We can’t comment on this due to security reasons.
− What is your stance on the freedom of speech in Russia? Is there a political element in your operations, or this is pure commerce?
− The main principles are provided on the homepage of our portal. These had been formulated back in the beginning of the project, and little has changed since then. Take, for example, Anonymous International group: through our collaboration, they were able to sell promptly their information materials at market prices. Therefore, they had a strong financial supply and did not have to beg for money the Russian society – which is very greedy when it comes to the funding of such projects. This strong financial supply enabled Anonymous International to perform more efficiently their primary duty – share the secrets of power brokers with the society, which currently remains in information vacuum and does not understand what’s going on in the halls of power. Even such socially important projects as Shaltai Boltai require a considerable funding. We are glad with all heart that our portal had helped them with that.
In addition, sometimes we buy lots ourselves and publish the information if we believe that it is socially significant. Therefore, the financial interest is primary, of course, but we never forget the ideological component. We stand for the freedom of speech, therefore, the primary purpose of the Exchange of Information is publication of socially significant information in open sources.
We are similar to WikiLeaks, but on our portal, the informants may get a handsome remuneration for their information. We believe that this is right. Any information has its cost.
− Have you ever seen materials sold through your portal in the foreign press?
− No comments.
− AI members had claimed that they can easily get access to personal data of the most high-ranked persons. How an ordinary Russian citizen can protect himself and his data from hackers?
− Because we do not hack anything, our competence in this matter is far from professional. As far as we understand, it is possible to hack gadgets used by any person. This is rather a matter of the budget allocated to break a specific person. Therefore, the best way is to avoid using gadgets at all.
The CrimeRussia continues monitoring the situation with Shaltay-Boltay and their partners. The readers are welcome to ask questions that are of interest for them in comments under this interview. We will forward these questions to the Exchange of Information personnel.