• Mohan Chathuranga

Story of Sri Lankan born Hacker - Renukanth Subramaniam aka JiLsi

Renukanth Subramaniam, was revealed as the founder and a major "orchestrator" of the secret ­DarkMarket website, where elite fraudsters bought and sold personal data, after it was infiltrated by the FBI and the US Secret Service in 2008 and sentenced for five year imprisonment in 2010.

In DarkMarket membership was strictly by invitation. But once vetted, its 2,000 vendors and buyers traded everything from card details, obtained through hacking, phishing and ATM skimming devices, to viruses with which buyers could extort money by threatening company websites. It was one of the the top English language cybercrime site in the world then, it offered online tutorials in account takeovers, credit card deception and money laundering. Equipment – including false ATM and pin machines and everything needed to set up a credit card factory – was available. It even featured breaking-news-style updates on the latest compromised material available, while criminals could buy banner adverts to promote their wares.

The interesting section to the story is he and his family has fled Colombo when he was 8 and interrogated by Sri Lanka Military accused of being a terrorist at 11 and sent to Britain as a refugee seeking political asylum. He was bullied at school and with little knowledge in English he finds himself the peace in ones and zeroes behind computers and soon to be seduced by the internet community to become a credit card fraud.

So vast was its reach, with members in the UK, Canada, US, Russia, Turkey, Germany and France, the UK's Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca), which helped bust it, said it was "impossible" to put a figure on how much it cost banks worldwide at that time.

Subramaniam, who used the online soubriquet JiLsi, was remanded in custody at his own request at Blackfriars crown court after pleading guilty to conspiracy to defraud and five counts of furnishing false information.

A Sri Lankan-born British citizen, Subramaniam was a former member of ShadowCrew, DarkMarket's forerunner, which was uncovered by the US Secret Service in 2004. "JiLsi was one of the highest in cybercrime in this country with what he managed to achieve setting up a forum globally. No JiLsi, no DarkMarket," said one Soca investigator.

Its 2,000 members never met in real life. Quality, not quantity, was the key. DarkMarket was fastidious in banning "rippers" who would cheat other criminals. Honour among thieves was paramount.

It operated an "escrow" service, with payments and goods exchanged through a third party – "like a PayPal for criminals", the judge observed, and an arbitration service resolved disputes. To keep off the radar, the rules were strict: no firearms, drugs or counterfeit currency. Built on a pyramid structure, administrators decided who joined, moderators ran specific site sections, and reviewers vetted wannabes – each demanding 5% or £250 per transaction as a fixer's fee.

Considerable money was exchanged, though actual transactions took place away from the site for security reasons. One buyer spent £250,000 on stolen personal information in just six weeks. Described as "a very quiet man", Subramaniam worked at Pizza Hut and as a dispatch courier. "He owned three houses but was largely itinerant," said Sharon Lemon, Soca deputy director. "The key to investigations of this sort is finding the evidence to connect the online persona with a living, breathing person."

I don't believe that people need to be thrown in to jail who have lost their way but carries remarkable talent with them. Just as we have rehabilitation facilities there should be a second chance for Cyber Criminals too as they get sucked into this at a very young age. Countries like China and Russia recruit these kind of hackers before or after they have committed crime of industrial espionage and mobilize them on behalf of state. These breed of talent need to be guided properly as they are a remarkable breed. Let's not use the criminal justice system to put up punitive sentences against these in the future naturing monsters we cannot tame.

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