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EPT Barcelona Players Targeted by Organized Hotel Crime Ring?

hacker_inside_logoePlayers converging in Barcelona for the ongoing PokerStars-sponsored European Poker Tour event currently running there appear to have fallen prey to an organized crime ring involved in computer hacking, perhaps specifically targeting the online accounts of many of the players.

Multiple anecdotes and evidence continue to emerge in the evolving tale, which centers on poker-playing guests at the EPT’s base hotel for the event, Barcelona’s Arts Hotel.  To date, the story gives every indication of being a complex inside scheme involving multiple levels of the hotel’s staff, including security, with an escalating situation evolving between PokerStars, the hotel’s management and Barcelona police.

Several stories emanating from the scene from different players describe the same general scenario, with players returning to their rooms at odd moments to discover their keys no longer working, then gaining access to the rooms (after a trip downstairs for new keys) only to discover that their laptops have been stolen… temporarily.

That’s where the multiple stories share a common but strange twist.  In some cases, the new room keys of the guests stopped working, meaning the whole “get new keys” run to the desk was done again, only to have the players find their laptops returned once they regained access to the room.  In one case, a player’s largish laptop was recovered from a separate are of the Arts Hotel lobby, where the player hadn’t been.

And then there’s the apparent hacking.  As detailed by young Finnish player Jens “Jeans89” Kyllönen and others, the laptops then show signs of blatant hacking attempts, including Windows startup problems, reports of installed software and other strange behavior.

Kyllönen’s lengthy report (published here) includes strong evidence that this was an inside scheme perpetrated by hotel staff and security.  Complaints about the incident by Kyllönen led to multiple meetings with Arts Hotel security, who declared all security cameras that might have filmed the perpetrators to be inoperable, and that the probable thief/hacker was his roommate.

Eventually, Kyllönen was able to obtain a log of all key-card access attempts to his room, and with the help of Ignat “0human0” Liviu, another player who has his own laptop stolen and then returned in similar circumstances 48 hours later, was able to determine convincingly that the laptop games were closely linked to when the hotel’s bar-restocking employee entered Kyllönen’s $300/night suite.

Kyllönen also shared details of the probable hacking attempts against he and Liviu in this thread, while a third such tale has also emerged on a Russian poker forum.  This second thread, now locked, is notable in that it includes a response from longtime PokerStars bigwig Lee Jones confirming the situation, involving multiple players and an escalating investigation, is ongoing.  Wrote Jones:

Hi folks –
Unfortunately, the OP [original post] is accurate. We’re only aware of two cases, but obviously there could be more. Our security manager is working with the Hotel Arts security people to find out who did this. In the meantime:

  • If you’re staying at the Hotel Arts in Barcelona, please store your laptop in the room safe. If it won’t fit in the room safe, buy a laptop cable lock (available at any computer store) and lock your laptop to something in the room. If you can’t do that, take your laptop with you when you leave the room.
  • Change the password on your laptop right now.
  • We strongly encourage you to run virus/trojan detector software on your computer before using it for any online play.
  • I know it’s a hassle, but wiping the computer clean and reinstalling everything before you play online poker with it would not be a terrible idea.

We’re very sorry about this; everybody on our staff and at the Hotel Arts is taking the situation seriously. We have the Barcelona police involved too. 

We’ll keep you updated as soon as we know more. For now, please be hyper-vigilant and hyper-careful about your laptop. 

Best regards,
Lee Jones

PokerStars Head of Poker Communications

Tales of high-stakes poker players being targeted by hackers both within and outside the poker community have proliferated in recent years.  This latest incident is unexceptional in players being targeted, but is distinctive in that it occurred at so public a venue.  Barcelona, however, has long had the reputation of being a crime haven where tourists and rich foreigners are frequently targeted, so it’s perhaps not that unexpected that a story of this type has unfolded at this particular EPT stop.

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