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

Scotland Vote Raises Questions of International Law

Experts say self-determination, as defined and protected by international law, confined narrowly to independence movements in process of de-colonization More

Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

Conservationists hail ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015 More

Annual Military Exercise Takes on New Meaning for Ukraine Troops

Troops from 15 nations participating in annual event, 'Rapid Trident' in western Ukraine More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctionsi
X
September 18, 2014 2:28 AM
A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid