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Chinese national charged with operating ‘world’s largest botnet’ linked to billions in cybercrimes

A Chinese national has been arrested for his role in operating a residential proxy service that was used to defraud billions of dollars from the U.S. government and fund his lavish lifestyle, which included buying luxury cars and property around the world, the Department of Justice announced Wednesday.

YunHe Wang, 35, was arrested on May 24 and charged with creating a massive network of hijacked computer devices, also known as a “botnet,” that was used to conduct cyber attacks, fraud, child exploitation, bomb threats, and export violations, the department alleged. Wang administered the botnet, called “911 S5,” through about 150 servers worldwide from 2014 to 2022, according to an indictment unsealed last week.

About 76 of the servers were leased from online service providers based in the United States, the indictment said. The botnet infected over 19 million IP addresses in nearly 200 countries, including over 613,000 IP addresses located in the United States, according to prosecutors.

The Justice Department announcement comes after Wang and his two co-conspirators, Jingping Liu and Yanni Zheng, were sanctioned by the Department of Treasury for their alleged involvement with the malicious botnet. The department also imposed sanctions on three luxury companies Wang owned or controlled.

Authorities also searched Wang’s residences and seized assets valued at about $30 million as well as identifying other property valued at roughly an additional $30 million, prosecutors said.

“The conduct alleged here reads like it’s ripped from a screenplay,” Matthew Axelrod, assistant secretary for export control at the Department of Commerce, said in a statement Wednesday. “A scheme to sell access to millions of malware-infected computers worldwide, enabling criminals over the world to steal billions of dollars, transmit bomb threats, and exchange child exploitation materials — then using the scheme’s nearly $100 million in profits to buy luxury cars, watches, and real estate.”

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The Department of Justice partnered with the FBI and international law enforcement agencies in Singapore, Thailand, and Germany to dismantle the botnet and arrest Wang. The case is the latest in the federal government’s ongoing effort to thwart global cybercrime, which has become increasingly widespread.

These crimes can range from intellectual property theft to ransomware and can cost businesses billions of dollars in losses in addition to threatening critical sectors across the country, according to the Department of State. In recent years, federal authorities have expanded their international operations and country-to-country partnerships in order to better address cyber threats.

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