News / Europe

From Hackers to Security Experts, Balkan IT Sector Booms

Romanian Razvan Cernaianu, formerly known as a hacker by the name of TinKode, works at his laptop, Bucharest, March 15, 2013.
Romanian Razvan Cernaianu, formerly known as a hacker by the name of TinKode, works at his laptop, Bucharest, March 15, 2013.
Reuters
After hacking the Pentagon, NASA and Britain's Royal Navy for fun, TinKode got a real job as a computer security expert for a Romanian cyber safety consultancy.
 
TinKode was the name used by Romanian Razvan Cernaianu when he revealed security holes in government and corporate systems across the world, earning him a two-year suspended prison sentence.
 
"I was really passionate about carrying out what I call security audits," Cernaianu told Reuters. "It's a hobby, so I did it for free. Moreover, I've always sent emails to those institutions to fix their problems."
 
Cernaianu, 21, is an example of a deep well of talent in Romania and Bulgaria. They may be the European Union's two poorest members, but their low labor costs, skilled workers and strategic location are underpinning a technology boom.
 
Multinational companies are using their expertise for customer support, software development and business process outsourcing. Oracle, SAP, IBM, Hewlett Packard and Siemens all have business centers or operations in the region.
 
Romania-founded GeCaD developed Microsoft's RAV antivirus software and Bucharest-based Softwin created BitDefender internet security technology more than a decade ago, reaching half a billion users worldwide last year.
 
The expertise is partly accidental — in the 1980s, Romania's communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu backed computer research and technical education to promote pride in the nation. Piracy flourished after the 1989 revolution as people who could not afford proprietary content bought cheap copies instead.
 
Exceptional growth

On the other side of the Danube, Bulgaria's communists focused on hardware, at one point producing and supplying 40 percent of all computers used in the Soviet bloc.
 
The tech sector accounts for up to 10 percent of the two economies, according to business associations — a rare bright spot in the recession-hit Balkan region.
 
Growth of the Romanian and Bulgarian IT sectors far outpaced the rest of ex-communist Europe, jumping by 45 percent and 80 percent respectively since their 2007 EU entry. Meanwhile, the tech sectors in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic each grew by about 20 percent.
 
Romania's tech sector achieved year-on-year growth of 40 percent in the final quarter of 2012, which helped the country to avoid slipping back into recession.
 
Cernaianu, one of the world's most-wanted hackers until his arrest last year after a joint investigation by Romanian police, the FBI and NASA, now has a well-paid job and is co-owner of computer network security company CyberSmartDefence.
 
But the dirty side of the expertise still lingers.
 
Working from a tidy desk in a downtown Bucharest office, Cernaianu is from the same generation as the youngsters responsible for the Romanian town of Ramnicu Valcea becoming known as a global hacking hub.
 
Romanian hackers stole about $1 billion from U.S. accounts in 2012, according to the U.S. embassy in Bucharest. A report by Verizon this week said that Romania is the world's second-biggest hacking center behind China.
 
The FBI has even set up an office in Romania and helped to train specialist police agents.
 
Cernaianu says he never attacked a computer to steal money.
 
"We won't hire thieves," said CyberSmartDefence CEO Madalin Dumitru. "We're not afraid of such people [as Cernaianu]; we use their intelligence and expertise."
 
Brain drain

The investment in business outsourcing has created an estimated 15,000 jobs in Bulgaria, where an otherwise depressed economy has sparked nationwide protests that toppled the government in February.
 
"Why would you choose Bulgaria? Because it offers complex outsourcing and high-end software solutions," said Plamen Tilev, managing director of SAP Labs Bulgaria, which develops core software for the Germany company. "For low-end solutions, like code writing and checking, you'd go to east Asian countries."
 
The biggest fear is that Romania and Bulgaria become victims of their own success and suffer a brain drain. Tens of thousands of Romanians and Bulgarians have already left to work as IT specialists in the United States.
 
The populations of the two countries have plunged in the past decade and companies are pushing the governments to improve education, train more engineers and make it easier to bring in workers from neighbors such as Moldova, Serbia, Macedonia and Ukraine.
 
"There has been zero unemployment in the sector in the past 10 years," said Elena Marinova, who runs software business Musala Soft, which is now struggling to find qualified staff despite salaries about three times the national average.
 
Bulgarian universities produce about 2,000 IT specialists a year, but the industry says it creates 6,000 jobs a year in the country.
 
"The software industry is struggling to breathe because of the lack of people," said Petar Statev, head of the Bulgarian business association ICT Cluster.

You May Like

Arrested Football Officials Come Mainly From the Americas

US Justice Department alleges defendants participated in 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through corruption of international soccer More

Video Kenyans Lament Al-Shabab's Recruitment of Youths

VOA travels to Isiolo, where residents share their fears, struggles to get loved ones back from Somalia-based militant group More

This US Epidemic Keeps Getting Worse

One in 4 Americans suffers from this condition More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensionsi
X
May 26, 2015 11:11 PM
When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.

VOA Blogs