Russian charged for cyber theft targeting Seattle restaurants

SEATTLE -- Federal agents report they have brought down the leader of an international computer hacking ring that targeted several businesses in the Seattle, and across the country.

One of the victims is The Grill on Broadway. The once vibrant Capitol Hill restaurant now sits abandoned, a victim of a suspected computer hacker who brought the business to its knees.

"We lost 40 percent of return customers overnight," said CJ Saretto, one of the former business partners of The Grill on Broadway. "We spent two and a half years trying to win those customers back."

Saretto and his partner had only owned The Grill for three months when a massive security breach came to light. Restaurant customers turned up in droves complaining their credit card numbers had been stolen.

"And we lost the trust of our customers. That was huge, and for us, it was an unrecoverable blow to the business," Saretto said.

Now a major breakthrough in the case helps to explain what happened. Federal agents have arrested a suspected Russian cyber-thief who they accuse of illegally accessing computer systems across the United States.

"There is no refuge," said U.S Attorney Jenny Durkan. "If you are going to commit crimes against people in the United States, being in a foreign country is not going to protect you."

Durkan said between 2009 and 2011, Roman Seleznev hacked into retailers' computer systems and inserted malware to collect customer credit card data.

"You'll see these hackers will look for the most vulnerable parts of a system, and often that will be the point of sale, places where they swipe the credit cards," Durkan said.

Seleznev is accused of then selling those card numbers to other identity thieves to earn millions of dollars. Prosecutors said Seleznev stole data from several Mad Pizza locations, from the Grand Central Baking Company in Pioneer Square and from other businesses across the country.

Saretto said once they discovered the problem at The Grill they took steps to correct it, but it was too late.

"And it never did happen again at The Grill, but once the damage was done it was pretty tough," he said.

Experts say the best way people can protect themselves is to check their credit card statements often and report any irregularities.

As for Seleznev, he's in federal custody on the island of Guam and will eventually be brought to Seattle to face charges.