U.S. authorities said Tuesday they had broken up an “unprecedented” cybercrime ring that used information stolen from corporate news services to generate more than $100 million in insider trading profits.
A complaint filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission said two Ukrainian men hacked into the wire services to obtain corporate earnings announcements before they were publicly released and 30 other defendants in and outside the U.S. traded on the information.
“This international scheme is unprecedented in terms of the scope of the hacking, the number of traders, the number of securities traded, and profits generated,” SEC Chair Mary Jo White said in a news release.
The case “shows how insider trading has crossed into the cyber realm, exposing the vulnerabilities of financial markets in the digital age,” Bloomberg said. “Just as prosecutors deploy ever-more aggressive tactics like wiretaps to curb illegal trading, criminals have leaped past them with a simple ruse: Steal information instead of persuading others to share it.”
According to the government, Turchynov and Ieremenko used advanced techniques to infiltrate the servers of PRNewswire Association, Marketwired, and Business Wire and steal the earnings announcements of more than 100 companies including Panera Bread, Boeing, Hewlett-Packard, Caterpillar, and Oracle.
During the short window of time before the wire services published the releases, the SEC said, traders involved in the scheme used the nonpublic information to make illicit trades in stocks, options, and other securities through retail brokerage accounts. The proceeds were allegedly shifted offshore through Estonian banks.
In one instance, the hackers allegedly stole an announcement from PRNewswire stating that Caterpillar’s profits for the previous year had risen 36%. The traders bought $8.3 million in Caterpillar stock and options, closing out their position for a profit of about $1 million after the earnings became public, the government said.
“This cyber hacking scheme is one of the most intricate and sophisticated trading rings that we have ever seen, spanning the globe and involving dozens of individuals and entities,” said Andrew Ceresney, director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement.