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An unusual story of paralyzed hacker from Belarus

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Maksim Syamashka at home / Raman Pratasevich, Euroradio

19-year-old Maksim Syamashka from Liuban, Minsk region suffers from an incurable genetic disease - spinal muscular atrophy type 2. Maksim moves around in a wheelchair, only one of his hands works a little. Despite all this, he doesn't lose his spirits, he gets tattoos, he doesn't stay home all the time. He also earns money online not quite legally. Not so long ago he was busted by Belarus' cybercrime police taskforce also known as Department "K". Currently, he has been under investigation under Article 349 of the Belarusian Criminal Code for "unauthorized access to computer information."

Euroradio spoke to Maksim who turns out to be one of the most unusual hackers in the country.

"I started thinking about earning money online already in the 7th grade"

"I was born and lived in Barysau (a city in central Belarus some 100 km off Minsk) until I was seven. My mother learned out about my diagnosis when I was ten months. I was supposed to start crawling and moving somehow, but that didn't happen. It turned out I had SMA. I've known this since I was a kid, but my mother raised me so that I didn't feel sorry for myself all the time and got used to living like ordinary people, for which I am very grateful to her.

My father was an alcoholic. He drank a lot. That's why my mother and I left Barysau for Luban to live with our family. That's where I studied. We were quite poor. However, this world is not without good people, and I was lucky to get into the program called "Dreams come true". I was helped many times by athletes and stars of Belarusian pop music. Without this help, my mother and I would have starved, since the treatment cost 50-100 euros, and I had to 'support' my muscles at least once every three months. Many thanks to the people who helped me, they really made my childhood happy, they really try to change the world and make it better.

But the situation was still bad enough. The state disability pension is small, alimony from my father also did not save the day. In the 7th grade, I got seriously into earning money online. I was the only man in the family, and I had to do something about it.

At the time I started small with paid clicks on the links, some bets and other trifles. There was very little money, and it did not help to improve our financial situation.

"I really thought that I would simply drown myself"

When I graduated from high school, I realized that it was it. I had to do something urgently, since I did not even try to enter the university: there is simply no distance learning program in Belarus. I thought that maybe I could try to get into IT...

But you have to understand one simple thing: nobody will hire a disabled person like me now, and my condition will only get worse. Already now, at the age of 19, I only have one hand working more or less. It only works half way though -- I cannot raise or lower it. But even to be a programmer, you have to work behind the keyboard and type a lot.

The burden of responsibility for the fact that I had to find a job put a lot of pressure on me. I tried to find it for two months. But everything was useless. I really had already thought that I would drown myself.

 

"You can figure out the Internet within a few days"

Then I went to various forums, including shadow ones. Not even those in Darknet, but those that can be easily reached. There you can find thousands of different money making schemes.

I started with so-called affiliate programs. The point is to imitate the alleged clicks on advertising links in social networks. There were certain tricks and schemes of how you can deceive all these advertisements.

Later I found a much more attractive way to earn money -- the famous Aliexpress platform. And if I used to earn $300 a month for 12 hours of work every day, now I could get $600 for working a couple of hours a day at most.

My work was simple: to run special programs that used the brute force method, that is, the usual search, to pick passwords to accounts of people on the trading floor. Accounts are needed to make "refs", that is, the return of money for some goods. This can be done in many different ways: you can say that the product arrived already damaged or not working. Or you can play on the complexities of the Chinese site's rules and demand a refund for inaccuracy of the description, etc.

Simply creating a new account and placing a refund with the first order will not work. They agree to return money only when the buyer has already made a lot of orders and has been registered on the site for everal months. Thus, it was quite profitable to hack and sell such accounts, even though one account, depending on the number of previous orders and rating, costs from $1 to $5. That's why I used to bet on quantity, often selling in bulk.

I placed ads on one of the open, non-Darkened forums, that's why Belarusian law enforcers found me. Russian police busted the site hosting and passed all the information to law enforcement agencies of different countries. My IP-address, respectively, got to the "K" department. So they found me. But you can joke that, yes, I was identified by my IP address.

They arrested me at home. They knocked on the door and my mother opened. There were several people in plain clothes on the doorstep. They asked her where I was and asked her to leave. My mother just said that I couldn't go out, because I was sick. They thought I was actively covering my tracks and destroying hard drives at that moment. So they literally broke into the room after my mother. And they were very surprised, because they obviously didn't expect to see me like this.

I wasn't going to make it all look so innocent and pretend I didn't do it. If they were from the "K" unit, they have everything on me. So I didn't hide it and told them everything. That's how they brought the case against me under article 349. The case is still under investigation, so there has been no trial.

I'm not likely to go to jail because of my progressive illness.

"The state can't help me"

I've never complained ever since I was a kid. I've always tried to do everything I can, without making allowances for my disability and the fact that I'm always like a black sheep to people. Does the state have a claim against me now? Well, I'm sorry. Somehow only one drug can save my life -- SPINRAZA. It costs more than 350 thousand euros per year. In general, this is the only medicine that not only makes it easier, but completely stops the development of the disease, and in some cases even improves the condition. This product has shown almost one hundred percent efficiency in patients around the world. But in Belarus everything turned out to be different.

Not so long ago, the mother of a little girl with the same diagnosis (SMA) even tried to sue the Ministry of Health to make the state buy the drug. However, representatives of the Ministry suddenly said that the effectiveness was not proven anywhere, so purchasing the drug was wrong. But isn't it funny that all over the world it is now a recognized remedy, but we do not have it.

I understand that the price of the drug is simply ridiculous because the capitalists have gone completely mad. However, the state in which we live simply refuses to help people who will die without this medicine. Neighboring Poland bought this drug for all patients and even started to administer it to everyone diagnosed with SMA. Even in Russia, the drug has already been registered, which means that it will soon be used.

It is a shame that I will hardly be able to earn this kind of money unless I start "playing big" and do some very dark things. And I want to live.

So, after my criminal case is over, I will go to court to try to prove that SPINRAZA is needed. Just imagine what it would look like! All covered in tattoos, the ex-convict hacker in the wheelchair will sue the state. Why not though?

Gigs, tattoos, blog

It's hard to be different in a small town like Liuban, especially for an outcast like me. Just imagine how older people look when a guy in tattoos flies past them on a motorized cart. Sometimes I even laugh out loud at people's reactions.

As for tattoos, there are only seven. On the back of my hands, I have a "wheel of fortune", because I still bet a lot and play in casinos, as well as a Scandinavian compass that guides me through life. I also have an image of a sundial. This tattoo, I think, does not need to be explained -- everything is clear. There is also an image of a dagger. And three inscriptions in Latin, which are my mottos: "destiny helps those with courage", "to live means to win" and "do not believe, do not be afraid, do not ask". So yes, all my tattoos describe me. And now I think about cover my legs with tattoos.

I'm not going to stop: I want to buy a new wheelchair with a stairclimber, thanks to which I will be able to go where I want to go and get to any place. I'm not even talking about Lyuban right now, it's clear. Minsk is also far from being fully friendly for wheelchair users. Recently I was at Max Korzh gig at the "Dynamo" stadium. I thought that the new, renovated stadium must have all the facilities for people like me. Even before I bought the tickets, I asked them about it. They said it was okay, the lifts were there, so it was easy to get in. However, when I arrived at the stadium, I had to look for the lift with the staff for almost an hour -- no one even knew where it was. It also happened that there was only one such lift for the whole stadium! So what equal opportunities are we talking about?

 

But I'm not just gonna give up. In the near future I will start making my own blog, which will be called "On Wheels". I will travel around the city, broadcasting my conversations with people and "barrier-free environment" in a wheelchair with a stairclimber. I am also going to get a small vehicle with a special device in which I can get being on a wheelchair. The friend will drive and we will drive around the country. Awesome!

And the most important thing is that I am not going to give up. I can't sit in a room all day like a spider, can I? So everything will be cool, and I'm gonna get there!