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

Turkey: No Ransom Paid for Release of Hostages Held by IS Militants

President Erdogan hails release of hostages as diplomatic success but declines to be drawn on whether their release freed Ankara's hand to take more active stance against insurgents More

Audio Sierra Leone Ends Ebola Lockdown

Health ministry says it has reached 75 percent of its target of visiting 1.5 million homes to locate infected, educate population about virus More

US Pivot to Asia Demands Delicate Balancing Act

As tumult in Middle East distracts Obama administration, efforts to shift American focus eastward appear threatened More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Towni
X
Deborah Block
September 21, 2014 2:12 PM
A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Alibaba Shares Soar in First Day of Trading

China's biggest online retailer hit the market Friday -- with its share price soaring on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares were priced at $68, but trading stalled at the opening, as sellers held onto their shares, waiting for buyers to bid up the price. More on the world's biggest initial public offering from VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
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.


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