US prosecutors will announce charges later today against an insider trading ring that hacked disseminators of news releases, a source said.
A group of cyber-criminals from Ukraine stole press releases about corporate news before it was made public, the source told Reuters, before passing the information to a group of traders, who were mostly based in the US.
The case, brought jointly by the US Attorney's offices in Brooklyn and New Jersey, claims the group reaped at least $30m (£19m) by using the inside information to make trades in hundreds of companies, including Fortune 500 firms, according to the source, who said the lead trader in the case is suspected of making more than $17m.
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Federal Bureau of Investigation and Secret Service have all been involved in the matter, the source said, but the federal prosecutors in Brooklyn and New Jersey could not immediately be reached for comment outside regular US business hours.
The case is the largest known suspected case of hacking that resulted in insider trading and marks the first time prosecutors have alleged that a securities fraud scheme was based entirely on hacked inside information.
Until now, the SEC has brought only a handful of civil cases against hackers such as the 2007 case against Ukrainian trader Oleksandr Dorozhko, which accused him of hacking into IMS Health and stealing information on earnings that he used to make profitable options trades. In 2010, a federal court ordered him to pay $580,000.
The source said the case is not believed to be related to the ongoing SEC investigation of insider trading tied to a hacker group that has been dubbed FIN4, which tried to break into email accounts of more than 100 companies and made off with material information on mergers and other issues.