Expert who beat WannaCry cyberattack says he’s no hero

May 16, 2017 01:25 pm | Updated 01:25 pm IST - ILFRACOMBE, England

British IT expert Marcus Hutchins, who thwarted the WannaCry virus that took computer files hostage around the world, sits in front of his workstation during an interview in Ilfracombe, England on May 15, 2017.

British IT expert Marcus Hutchins, who thwarted the WannaCry virus that took computer files hostage around the world, sits in front of his workstation during an interview in Ilfracombe, England on May 15, 2017.

A young British computer expert credited with cracking the WannaCry cyberattack told The Associated Press he doesn’t consider himself a hero but fights malware because “it’s the right thing to do”.

In his first face-to-face interview, Marcus Hutchins, who works for Los Angeles-based Kryptos Logic, said on Monday that hundreds of computer experts worked throughout the weekend to fight the virus, which paralysed computers in some 150 countries.

“I’m definitely not a hero,” he said. “I’m just someone doing my bit to stop botnets.”

The 22-year-old computer whiz from the south coast of England, discovered a so-called “kill switch” that slowed the unprecedented outbreak on Friday. He then spent the next three days fighting the worm that crippled Britain’s hospital network as well as computer systems around the world.

WannaCry paralysed computers running mostly older versions of Microsoft Windows by encrypting users’ computer files and displaying a message demanding anywhere from $300 to $600 to release them; failure to pay would leave the data mangled and likely beyond repair.

Salim Neino, CEO of Kryptos Logic, said Mr. Hutchins took over the “kill switch” on Friday afternoon European time, before it could fully affect the United States.

“Marcus, with the program he runs at Kryptos Logic, not only saved the United States but also prevented further damage to the rest of the world,” Mr. Neino said. “Within a few moments, we were able to validate that there was indeed a kill switch. It was a very exciting moment. This is something that Marcus validated himself.”

Kryptos Logic is one of hundreds of companies working to combat online threats for companies, government agencies and individuals around the world.

After all, now he’s a computer celebrity. He’s been in touch with the FBI, as well as British national cybersecurity officials.

“I don’t think I’m ever going back to the MalwareTech that everyone knew,” said the curly-haired young man, shrugging and flashing a winning smile.

It is likely to be a big adjustment. Mr. Hutchins lives with his family in this seaside town, where he works out of his bedroom on a sophisticated computer set-up with three enormous screens. He will soon become a local hero but if you ask him, his life of celebrity will be short lived.

“I felt like I should agree to one interview,” he said. But even that made the fame-averse Mr. Hutchins so nervous that he initially misspelled his last name, leaving out the letter “n” when doing a sound-level for the cameras.

“I wanted to scream, but I couldn’t,” she said.

Many will be following his next moves though. CyberSecurity Ventures, which tracks the industry, estimates global spending on cybersecurity will jump to $120 billion this year from just $3.5 billion in 2004. It forecasts expenditures will grow between 12% and 15% annually for the next five years.

“While all other technology sectors are driven by reducing inefficiencies and increasing productivity, cybersecurity spending is driven by cybercrime,” the firm said in a February report. “The unprecedented cybercriminal activity we are witnessing is generating so much cyber spending, it’s become nearly impossible for analysts to keep track.”

After more analysis, Mr. Hutchins, an avid surfer, plans to take a vacation travelling to Las Vegas and California on the company dime.

One guess on what he’ll be doing — Yes, surfing. On waves this time.

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