Interview: Surfer worked from bedroom to beat cyberattack

May 16, 2017 by Danica Kirka
British IT expert Marcus Hutchins who has been branded a hero for slowing down the WannaCry global cyber attack, during an interview in Ilfracombe, England, Monday, May 15, 2017. Hutchins thwarted the virus that took computer files hostage around the world, including the British National Health computer network, telling The Associated Press he doesn't consider himself a hero but fights malware because "it's the right thing to do.'' (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

As a vast "ransomware" attack raced from computer to computer, infecting tens of thousands around the world, a young tech expert worked from his bedroom in England to bring the rampage to a halt.

But Marcus Hutchins doesn't consider himself a hero.

The 22-year-old credited with cracking the WannaCry cyberattack told The Associated Press he fights malware because "it's the right thing to do."

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

"I'm definitely not a hero," he said. "I'm just someone doing my bit to stop botnets."

In the first hours after the virus struck Friday, the computer whiz and surfing enthusiast in a small seaside town in southwest England discovered a so-called "kill switch" that slowed the unprecedented outbreak. He then spent the next three days fighting the worm that crippled Britain's hospital network as well as factories, government agencies, banks and other businesses around the world.

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

British IT expert Marcus Hutchins who has been branded a hero for slowing down the WannaCry global cyber attack, speaks during an interview in Ilfracombe, England, Monday, May 15, 2017. Hutchins thwarted the virus that took computer files hostage around the world, including the British National Health computer network, telling The Associated Press he doesn't consider himself a hero but fights malware because "it's the right thing to do.'' (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Hutchins said he stumbled across the solution when he was analyzing a sample of the malicious code and noticed it was linked to an unregistered web address. He promptly registered the domain, something he regularly does to discover ways to track or stop cyber threats, and found that stopped the worm from spreading.

Kryptos Logic chief executive Salim Neino said Hutchins' quick work allowed him to slow the virus 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," Neino said in an interview from Venice, Italy. "Within a few moments, we were able to validate that there was indeed a . It was a very exciting moment."

Neino said the worm was "poorly designed"—patched together and a "sum of different parts" with an unsophisticated payment system.

Kryptos Logic is one of hundreds of companies working to combat online threats for companies, and individuals around the world. Hutchins himself is part of a global community that constantly watches for attacks and works to thwart them, often sharing information on Twitter.

British IT expert Marcus Hutchins who has been branded a hero for slowing down the WannaCry global cyber attack, sits in front of his workstation during an interview in Ilfracombe, England, Monday, May 15, 2017. Hutchins thwarted the virus that took computer files hostage around the world, including the British National Health computer network, telling The Associated Press he doesn't consider himself a hero but fights malware because "it's the right thing to do.'' (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

It's not uncommon for members to use aliases, to protect from retaliatory attacks and ensure privacy, and Hutchins has long tweeted under the handle MalwareTech, which features a profile photo of a pouty-faced cat wearing enormous sunglasses.

But he realizes his newfound fame will mean an end to the anonymity.

"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.

After all, now he's a celebrity. He's been in touch with the FBI, as well as British national cyber security officials.

His new life is likely to be a big adjustment. Hutchins lives with his family in the seaside resort town of Ilfracombe, where he works out of his bedroom on a sophisticated setup with three enormous screens. He predicted his celebrity would be short-lived.

British IT expert Marcus Hutchins who has been branded a hero for slowing down the WannaCry global cyber attack, sits in front of his workstation during an interview in Ilfracombe, England, Monday, May 15, 2017. Hutchins thwarted the virus that took computer files hostage around the world, including the British National Health computer network, telling The Associated Press he doesn't consider himself a hero but fights malware because "it's the right thing to do.'' (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

"I felt like I should agree to one interview," he said. But even that made the fame-averse Hutchins so nervous that he initially misspelled his last name, leaving out the letter "n'' when checking sound levels for the camera.

Many will be following his next moves. 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 percent and 15 percent 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, Hutchins, an avid surfer, plans to take a vacation—traveling to Las Vegas and California on the company dime.

One guess on what he'll be doing:

Yes, surfing. On waves this time.

British IT expert Marcus Hutchins who has been branded a hero for slowing down the WannaCry global cyber attack, sits in front of his workstation during an interview in Ilfracombe, England, Monday, May 15, 2017. Hutchins thwarted the virus that took computer files hostage around the world, including the British National Health computer network, telling The Associated Press he doesn't consider himself a hero but fights malware because "it's the right thing to do.'' (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

British IT expert Marcus Hutchins who has been branded a hero for slowing down the WannaCry global cyber attack, sits in front of his workstation during an interview in Ilfracombe, England, Monday, May 15, 2017. Hutchins thwarted the virus that took computer files hostage around the world, including the British National Health computer network, telling The Associated Press he doesn't consider himself a hero but fights malware because "it's the right thing to do.'' (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
British IT expert Marcus Hutchins who has been branded a hero for slowing down the WannaCry global cyber attack, sits in front of his workstation during an interview in Ilfracombe, England, Monday, May 15, 2017. Hutchins thwarted the virus that took computer files hostage around the world, including the British National Health computer network, telling The Associated Press he doesn't consider himself a hero but fights malware because "it's the right thing to do.'' (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
British IT expert Marcus Hutchins who has been branded a hero for slowing down the WannaCry global cyber attack, sits at his workstation during an interview in Ilfracombe, England, Monday, May 15, 2017. Hutchins thwarted the virus that took computer files hostage around the world, including the British National Health computer network, telling The Associated Press he doesn't consider himself a hero but fights malware because "it's the right thing to do.'' (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Explore further: An alert researcher, cooperation helped stem cyberattack

Related Stories

An alert researcher, cooperation helped stem cyberattack

May 14, 2017

The cyberattack that spread malicious software around the world, shutting down networks at hospitals, banks and government agencies, was stemmed by a young British researcher and an inexpensive domain registration, with help ...

Experts: Cyberattack havoc could grow as work week begins

May 14, 2017

An unprecedented "ransomware" cyberattack that has already hit tens of thousands of victims in 150 countries could wreak even more havoc Monday as people return to their desks and power up their computers at the start of ...

Whiz kid who foiled cyberattack

May 16, 2017

They are called white hats—the good guys in the Wild West of the internet—and they ride to the rescue as in the case of the 22-year-old British expert who helped stop the WannaCry cyberattack.

Recommended for you

New method analyzes corn kernel characteristics

November 17, 2017

An ear of corn averages about 800 kernels. A traditional field method to estimate the number of kernels on the ear is to manually count the number of rows and multiply by the number of kernels in one length of the ear. With ...

Optically tunable microwave antennas for 5G applications

November 16, 2017

Multiband tunable antennas are a critical part of many communication and radar systems. New research by engineers at the University of Bristol has shown significant advances in antennas by using optically induced plasmas ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.