A 35-year-old Chinese man has been labeled as the alleged mastermind behind a giant botnet used to steal billions of zombie computers.

An international law enforcement team arrested a Chinese national and dismantled a major botnet that authorities say he ran for nearly a decade, racking up at least $99 million in profits by reselling access to criminals who used it to identity theft, child exploitation, and financial fraud, including pandemic relief scams.

The US Justice Department quoted FBI Director Christopher Wray as saying on Wednesday that the “911 S5” botnet, a network of malware-infected computers in nearly 200 countries, was likely the largest in the world.

Justice said in a news release that Yunhe Wang, 35, was arrested on May 24. Details about where he was detained were not available and a department spokesperson said “we will not be commenting beyond our news release.”

Cybercriminals used a network of zombie home computers to steal “billions of dollars from financial institutions, credit card issuers and account holders, and federal loan programs since 2014,” according to an indictment filed in the Eastern District of Texas.

The administrator, Wang, sold access to the 19 million Windows computers he seized (more than 613,000 in the United States) to criminals who “used that access to commit a staggering variety of crimes that victimized children, threatened the security of people and defrauded financial institutions and federal lending programs,” U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in announcing the removal.

It said criminals who purchased zombie network access from Wang were responsible for more than $5.9 billion in estimated losses due to fraud against aid programs. Officials estimated that 560,000 fraudulent unemployment insurance claims originated from compromised IP addresses.

Wang allegedly managed the botnet through 150 dedicated servers, half of them rented from US-based online service providers.

The indictment says Wang used his ill-gotten gains to purchase 21 properties in the United States, China, Singapore, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates and St. Kitts and Nevis, where he says he gained citizenship through an investment.

In its press release, the Justice Department thanked police and other authorities in Singapore and Thailand for their help.

Subscribe to the Eye on AI newsletter to stay up to date on how AI is shaping the future of business. Sign up free.

Leave a Comment