No Easy Fix for Russian Hack That Scams Casinos

'Wired' dives into how St. Petersburg group figured out slot machine patterns
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 7, 2017 2:54 PM CST
No Easy Fix for Russian Hack That Scams Casinos
Astonishing how they figured it all out.   (Getty Images/01Smith)

An iPhone and a few well-timed button pushes by a mysterious patron was all that was needed to make a Missouri casino's slot machine pay out lots of cash. But this wasn't just a random scammer who'd figured out how to play the machine: It was part of an elaborate Russian hacking scheme Brendan Koerner explores for Wired. That patron, Murat Bliev, was a member of a St. Petersburg cheat group, a willing participant in what Koerner describes as a "hotbed of slots-related malfeasance." This underground movement originated in 2009, when then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin decided to make most gambling illegal to curb organized crime. All of the slot machines in Russian casinos had to go somewhere, and so many of them ended up with high bidders (including Bliev's organization), who then poked around in the machines' coding to figure out how to exploit them.

How the racket-runners worked: They figured out the patterns behind the machines' pseudorandom number generators, or PRNGs, which, while difficult to crack, aren't impossible if someone can get into the machine's insides. But because the "temporal state" of each machine is different, additional surveillance steps were needed in combination with the PRNG intel—and a casino security expert figured out how the hackers pulled it off. The scheme involved cellphones with video, a tech team back in St. Petersburg, and vibrating "timing markers" sent to the players to indicate when to hit. While Bliev and others were eventually busted, the hacking still lives on via enhanced methods, as there's "no easy technical fix. "A finger that lingers too long above a spin button may be a guard's only clue," Koerner writes. More on the cheat at Wired. (How slot machines feed gambling addictions.)

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