The trial of the first Cypriot national extradited to the United States began on Monday in the Northern District of Georgia.
Joshua Polloso Epifaniou, a 21-year-old resident of Nicosia who was extradited in mid-July, is facing charges of cyber intrusion and extortion. He was arrested in Cyprus in February 2018.
He is alleged to have defrauded entities of $56,850 in bitcoin, while two victims incurred losses of over $530,000 from remediation costs associated with the incident, according to a press release from the US Department of Justice.
A five-count indictment filed charges Epifaniou with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit computer fraud and identity theft, and extortion related to a protected computer, a press release from the US Justice Department said.
According to the indictment, between approximately October 2014 and November 2016, Epifaniou worked with co-conspirators to steal personal identifying information from user and customer databases at victim websites.
This is in order to extort the websites into paying ransoms under threat of public disclosure of the sensitive data.
The indictment also alleges that Epifaniou obtained confidential personal identifying information from these websites including from a free online game publisher based in Irvine, California.
As well as a hardware company based in New York, an online employment website headquartered in Innsbrook, Virginia, and an online sports news website owned by Turner Broadcasting System Inc. in Atlanta, Georgia.
This was done either by directly exploiting a security vulnerability at the websites and stealing user and customer data, or by obtaining a portion of the victim website’s user data from a co-conspirator who had hacked into the victim network.
After obtaining the personal identifying information, Epifaniou allegedly used proxy servers located in foreign countries to log into online email accounts and send messages to the victim websites threatening to leak the sensitive data unless a ransom was paid.
A Lebanese national, Ghassan Diab, 37, who was extradited from Cyprus to the US the same day as Epifaniou is alleged to have conspired to engage in the laundering of drug proceeds through the use of the black market peso exchange in support of Hezbollah’s global criminal-support network.
Diab is charged in the State of Florida with two counts of money laundering over $100,000, two counts of conspiracy to launder over $100,000, and two counts of unlicensed transmission of currency over $100,000.
As well as with two counts of unlawful use of a two-way communications device to further the commission of money laundering, all felonies under Florida law.
Cyprus amended its Constitution in 2013 to allow for the extradition of Cypriot nationals to a European country or to a third country on the basis of a European arrest warrant or on the basis of a bilateral or multilateral treaty that the Republic of Cyprus has signed.
The understanding was that the corresponding country would extradite its citizens as well. In 2003, the United States and the European Union entered into an extradition agreement.