LA County Identifies Hacker in Email Breach


Following a lengthy and complex investigation by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Cyber Investigation Response Team, criminal charges have been filed against a Nigerian national accused of waging a wide-scale email phishing attack on Los Angeles County employees. The data breach exposed the personal information of nearly 800,000 people who have done business with the county.

Kelvin Onaghinor is faced with charges ranging from identity theft to unauthorized computer access, but it is unclear if Onaghinor is in the US.

Onaghinor is accused of launching an email phishing attack in May that targeted Los Angeles County employees from 15 departments. Phishing scams trick recipients into providing personal identifying information such as usernames and passwords as a way to access a victim’s account. Of 1,000 county email users who received the defendant’s message, only 108 county employee email accounts were affected.

Finding cyber attackers is often difficult because attackers are usually anonymous and often not in the US. LA County officials have created a response team to focus on cyberattack investigations. “My office will work aggressively to bring this criminal hacker and others to Los Angeles County where they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” she added.” District Attorney Jackie Lacey said, in a statement on the breach.

Municipal offices throughout California have been targets for cyber attackers recently. As CivSource reported last month, the San Francisco Muni public transit system had ticking machines briefly taken offline after a ransomware attack impacted some 2000 devices throughout the transit network.

Phishing type attacks like the one against LA County are the oldest, but still most successful style of hack. Adversaries have become more and more sophisticated with masking emails and other communications in ways that they look legitimate and can trick people into giving over the desired information. Phishing remains one of the top sources for breaches, according to Verizon’s annual Data Breach Investigations Report.

LA County officials say that the case remains under active investigation, but it is unclear if Onaghinor will be brought to trial in the US.