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Hackers Take Down Adelson's Sands Casino Network and More

Published on October 25, 2014, 4:32 pm

by Jeff Grant Twitter account Jeff Grant LinkedIn account

Sheldon Adelson, Las Vegas Sands CEO, is a controversial figure in the gambling world. On the one hand, he helped grow the multi-billion dollar Sands Casino empire. On the other hand, he's proven himself time and again to be an enemy of U.S. efforts to legalize online gambling. Perhaps Adelson's controversial character is the reason why his corporation's computer network was attacked by hackers earlier this month.

The hacking affected Sands computers for six days and was a deep-system attack, according to a company spokesman. Hacking occurs when an outside party modifies computer hardware and/or software from a remote location. Not all computer hackers have ill intentions; some are genuinely interested in how computer networks function and pursue the activity as a learning exercise. Many of the world's hackers are teenagers and young adults. At this time, the identity of the person or persons who maliciously attacked the Sands computer system remains a mystery.

This is how the Sands casino websites appeared after the hacker's attack
This is how the Sands casino websites appeared after the hacker's attack

Laundry List of Hacker Damages

While some hackers do not intend to cause harm, that was not the case in the Sands Casino attack. The damages sustained by the company were numerous and severe. Here is a partial list:

  • The corporation's email system was crashed.
  • The hackers posted images condemning comments Adelson made last October about using nuclear weapons against Iran. Adelson made the controversial statements during a panel discussion at New York's Yeshiva University. The business tycoon has a history of supporting Israel, as well as the states' aggressive stance against Iran.
  • According to a source, this statement was broadcast by the hackers on the Sands website: “Damn A [Adelson], don’t let your tongue cut your throat. Encouraging the use of weapons of mass destruction, under any conditions, is a crime.”
  • An 11-minute video, comprised of data stolen by the hackers, was sent to the Associated Press via email by a person under the name of Zhao Anderson. The video revealed system passwords, employee files, and sensitive information about internal networks. The AP was unable to trace the true identity of the sender.
  • Corporate headquarters were affected by the attack, as well as Sands gambling locations in Pennsylvania, Las Vegas, China, and Singapore.

The Identity of the Hackers

The mystery hackers referred to themselves as the “Anti WMD Team”, but investigators have disclosed no further leads to the public. “Zhao Anderson,” the person who shared the video with the AP, is likely to be a pseudonym. Blogger Tikan Olum offers several theories as to who might have orchestrated the attack.

An Iranian Entity With Political Motives

The first possibility is that an entity from Iran did it. According to Olum, Iran has “active cyber-warfare capability” which may be responsible for previous attacks on U.S. banks as well as Aramco, Saudi Arabia's primary oil company. Olum sees Adelson as a benign target in the grand scheme of the U.S./Middle Eastern relationship. For this reason, political activists may have chosen him.

An Adelson Opponent

Logo of The Syrian Electronic Army (SEA)
Logo of The Syrian Electronic Army (SEA)

Olum posits that the crime could also have been committed by one of Adelson's many opponents in the gambling world. The attack could easily have been initiated by a business adversary of Las Vegas Sands or an advocate of legalized online gambling. Adelson recently announced to the world that he's ready and willing to spend his fortune trying to thwart online gambling. Anyone who is offended by his stance could be motivated to take him down.

Olum spoke with a computer security specialist who suggested that the Syrian Electronic Army, or SEA, could be responsible for the hacking. The pro-Assad group would have legitimate reason to zero in on Israeli “cyber targets,” and hackers from Syria and Iran might even have combined their efforts for this attack. The SEA, also known as the Syrian Electronic Soldiers, are a band of pro-government computer experts who use their digital prowess to advocate for Syria.

Polish Hackers Arrested for Blackmail

Last December, two Polish men went to jail for hacking the server of a British online casino. The men, both in their thirties, disabled the server for about five hours, costing the company about £15,000 in losses. Piotr Smirnow and Pariyk Surmacki demanded that the owner of the casino give them approximately £30m, or half of the worth of the company. If he refused to comply, they said they would hack into his website. Both men will endure five-year prison terms for the threats they made and the actions they took.

According to a U.K. source, Smirnow and Surmacki also have a history of blackmailing the owner of a U.S.-based online casino platform that serves scores of online casinos.

A Growing Trend

Ashley Stephenson, web security specialist and CEO at Corero Network Security
Ashley Stephenson, web security specialist and CEO at Corero Network Security

Online casinos are especially vulnerable to the type of blackmail attempted by Smirnow and Surmacki. According to web security specialist Ashley Stephenson, criminal hackers frequently contact online gambling sites and threaten a DDoS attack if a certain financial demand isn't met. The demand often entails the casino depositing cash into an untraceable e-wallet or anonymous form like BitCoin. Going offline, even for a short time, can cost an online casino giant amounts of money. Because of this, online proprietors sometimes succumb to blackmail threats just to avoid a hassle.

Hacking in the Form of Theft

Sometimes a hacker's major goal is financial gain. In 2011, Ashley Mitchell broke into the Zynga Corporation's computer network and stole a large volume of gaming chips from the company. Mitchell then "laundered" the chips into various Facebook accounts and sold them online for a profit. He was sentenced to two years in prison. Prior to his sentencing, Mitchell had been successfully running a Facebook app called Gambino Poker. The app still exists today and has 50,000 players. The game is available on Android, iPhone, iPad, and the Facebook site. It may have been named after the Gambino family, a dominant clan of organized crime in New York City.

Gambling houses, both online and on land, are vulnerable to hackers. As seen in the examples above, hacking can be used for political and/or financial gain. Given the anonymous nature of the Internet, investigators aren't always able to catch hackers. Many times, the computer wizards get away with their crime.


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