They are the world’s new drug dealers. They swim in money, spend on Rolex watches, drive European sports cars, and never seem to work. They are criminal hackers.
If anyone doubts that hackers make bundles of money, take a look at Karim Baratov, age 22. The Kazakh-Canadian was among those indicted by U.S. prosecutors this week as part of a ring allegedly run by two Russian intelligence agents that engineered a massive breach of Yahoo.
Before his arrest, Baratov spilled much of his life on social media. He’s bored with his Lamborghini, likes to hold up fistfuls of $100 bills, favors the handgun used by James Bond, bulks up on body supplements, and thinks school was a “waste of my time.”
On his Instagram account, Baratov profiles himself: “Workaholic. Occasional drawer. Gym rat. Cars are everything.” Rather than hacking, Baratov describes his field as “web security and development.” He doesn’t mention the spearphishing, personal identification theft, webmail penetration or other tactics that allow many criminal hackers to mint fortunes.
Toronto police picked up Baratov in his hometown of Ancaster, southwest of the Canadian metropolis, on Tuesday. Reached by phone, a man identified on Baratov’s social media accounts as his lawyer, Peter Hand, said, “I’ve got no comment, sir.”
In his postings, Baratov said his family arrived in Canada when he was about 12 years old. His Facebook page says his hometown is Moscow.
Initially, he was too poor to even afford a decent laptop computer.
“My english wasn’t good enough to communicate with my friends here, my old laptop wasn’t powerful enough to play video games, so I decided to learn simple web coding (html, php, java etc),” Baratov posted on his Instagram account, mrkarrim, which has nearly 30,000 followers.
Before he was expelled from Ancaster High School, Baratov posted that he was “able to afford driving a BMW 7 series and pay off a mortgage on my first house.”
I was making more than both of my parents combined. At 15 I got my first million.
Karim Baratov, accused criminal hacker
On another social media account on ASKfm, Baratov gave more details of amassing wealth: “I was making more than both of my parents combined. At 15 I got my first million.”
Baratov, who sports a one-carat black diamond stud in right ear lobe and has tattoos across his chest and right arm, voiced disdain for formal education.
“I almost failed high school . . . Never did homework, never showed up,” Baratov wrote on ASK.fm. On his Facebook page, Baratov added: “You don’t need to go to #College or #University to do well; real world experience is way more valuable.”
Baratov bought a two-story suburban home on Chambers Drive in Ancaster 18 months ago. The Toronto Globe and Mail said property records show a purchase price of $642,000.
A neighbor recalls how the neighborhood changed with Baratov’s arrival.
He has huge parties, like three times a year.
Kerry Carter, neighbor in Ancaster, Ontario
“He has huge parties, like, three times a year, with Lamborghinis. Really expensive cars come rolling up our street,” neighbor Kerry Carter told Canadian Press. “Every time his cars came up and down, all the little kids would come and take pictures.”
One photo on his Instagram account shows Baratov with a fistful of Canadian $100 bills splayed like a massive poker hand.
Such photos are sharply reminiscent of the sons and daughters of renowned drug dealers in Mexico, who can’t refrain from posting photos of their lavish lifestyles online. In recent years, they’ve posted photos of gold-plated assault rifles, pet lions, fat bundles of cash and high-end European cars.
Alfredo Guzman, son of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, who at one time was the world’s most wanted drug dealer and now sits in a U.S. jail, posted photos of his luxury Bentley sedan in 2013.
Baratov displayed similar tastes. In question-and-answer format on his ASK.fm account, he noted that he likes Armani clothing, John Varvatos shoes, and expensive wristwatches.
“I got 2 Rolexs, but to be honest AP (Audemars Piguet) is way better in terms of keeping its value and it just looks better in my opinion,” Baratov said.
Asked what his favorite gun was, Baratov responded: “I love Makarov, Also love the James Bond’s gun – Walther PPK.”
At his gym, Goodlife Fitness, Baratov would spend hours. In addition to working out, Baratov indicated he was taking a non-steroidal supplement to increase lean muscle mass.
What he doted on most, though, were high-end sports cars. He notes that his first car half a decade ago was a Mercedes e350. That was followed by a BMW 750, a Lamborghini Gallardo, a BMW i8, an Audi R8, a Porsche 911 turbo, and an Aston Martin DB9.
He declared at one point that he was “bored” with the Lamborghini and regretted buying the BMW i8 because “depreciation is a bitch.”
At the time of his arrest, Baratov owned the gray Aston Martin DB9 with its vanity license plate “MR KARIM,” and a black Mercedes Benz C54. U.S. prosecutors seek forfeiture of both cars.
I am very excited to start a new project.
Karim Baratov, accused hacker
Baratov appears to love the Aston Martin, which sells for almost $200,000. He wrote on Instagram that it is “a car with a split personality, when you cruise in auto it drives like a #RollsRoyce, when you put it in #Manual and step on it, it becomes as violent as my Gallardo.”
Gas mileage is awful, though.
“With this, I go to the gas station every day,” he posted.
Although Baratov remained vague on what he did online, he described a fairly relaxed work routine: “Usually I work 1.5hrs when I wake up, have the hole day to my self for gym, restaurants etc. then I come back home around 11pm to finish work for the day (2-3hrs).”
U.S. prosecutors allege that what Baratov was actually doing was working for the cyber unit of the Federal Security Service, the Russian successor agency to the KGB, fulfilling orders to attempt to hack into at least 80 webmail accounts, the majority in Gmail, in a time span from January 2014 until Dec. 1, 2016.
Something else was brewing in Baratov’s life. On Facebook, he recently crowed that he would soon have an announcement.
“I am very excited to start a new project,” he wrote. “The project is coming soon, I am very excited. For now it’s a surprise, more information will be revealed in the nearest future.”
That surprise, which Baratov probably did not expect, is a possible jail term.