Mar-a-Lago from a distance

A woman was arrested after entering Mar-a-Lago with a load of tech, including a malware-laden USB stick, according to court documents filed Sunday.


Saul Martinez/Getty Images

Yujing Zhang, who said she was headed to the pool at Mar-a-Lago on Saturday, was carrying four phones, two Chinese passports, one hard drive and a USB stick loaded with malicious software. She didn’t have a swimsuit.

A court document filed by a Secret Service agent describes the curious tale of a woman awkwardly talking her way inside Mar-a-Lago, a resort in southern Florida owned by President Donald Trump, with a flimsy cover story — and a heavy load of tech devices.

It’s unclear what Zhang’s purpose was. But lying to access the premises of a high-value target as part of a hacking attack is well known in the cybersecurity world. It even has a name: social engineering. Still, simply carrying a USB stick filled with malware inside a building doesn’t add up to much of a hack. There’s no indication Zhang installed the software anywhere. 

Zhang has been charged with making false statements to a federal officer and entering or remaining in a restricted building or grounds. An attorney for Zhang declined to comment, citing an office policy of not commenting on pending cases.

Zhang made it past a security checkpoint outside Mar-a-Lago by saying she was going to the pool, said Samuel Ivanovich, the Secret Service agent. Once she got to the reception desk, she allegedly changed her story, saying she was there for a United Nations Chinese American Association event. No such event was scheduled at the resort.

At that point, the receptionist alerted Ivanovich. Zhang was taken off the premises, and Ivanovich questioned her further. Though Zhang had previously appeared to speak English poorly, Ivanovich said he found she could read and speak English clearly. Zhang claimed she’d been told by her contact “Charles” over the WeChat instant messaging service to meet him at Mar-a-Lago and try “to speak with a member of the president’s family about Chinese and American foreign economic relations,” Ivanovich said.

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