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

Disappointing Report on China's Economy Shakes Markets

In London and New York shares lost 3 percent, while Paris and Germany dropped around 2.4 percent More

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs