Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor
Los Angeles, CA, United States (4E) – The FBI has arrested a spy of the People’s Republic of China for involvement in the notorious Office of Personnel Management (OPM) data breach in 2015 that stole the personnel records of 21.5 million U.S. government employees and job applicants.
It blamed the serious data breach on China.
Yu Pingan was arrested in Los Angeles and faces charges related to the malware used in hacking the OPM’s computer systems. He was arrested Aug. 21 after again entering the U.S., this time to attend a conference, and was arraigned in a Los Angeles court two days later.
Yu faces charges related to the creation of the Sakula malware or exploit, which was used in the breach. Cybersecurity experts said Sakula is a remote access Trojan (RAT) used in targeted intrusions since 2015.
Sakula enables an adversary like China to run interactive commands, as well as to download and execute additional components.
The FBI said Yu’s expertise includes computer network security and computer programming. The Chinese spy was born December 16, 1980 and lives in Shanghai.
Yu is accused of conspiring with at least two others to use Sakula to obtain the records of 21.5 million American government employees, said the FBI.
“Defendant Yu and co-conspirators … would acquire and use malicious software tools, some of which were rare variants previously unidentified by the FBI and information security community, including a malicious software tool known as Sakula,” said court documents.
The FBI complaint filed lists unidentified companies affected by the Sakula malware. These firms are located in areas such as San Diego, California; Massachusetts; Los Angeles, California and Arizona.
The OPM data theft was one of the worst data breaches to hit the U.S. government. Chinese hackers stole sensitive information (including Social Security numbers) from security clearance forms of millions of government workers and job applicants.
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