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If you don’t know who he is already, meet 22-year-old Marcus Hutchins of South-West England. AKA: the incredible tech-wizard that stopped a recent global cyber attack from his bedroom. The virus had reached several countries and forced several NHS hospitals in the UK to switch off their systems. But, fuelled by pizza, reports suggest Marcus nipped it in the bud within fifteen minutes.
Displaying humility and admirable modesty in his explanation of how he stopped a problem that looked set to cripple huge organisations, he said “I fight malware because it’s the right thing to do, I’m definitely not a hero,” he continued. “I’m just someone doing my bit to stop botnets.”
WannaCry paralyzed computers running mostly older versions of Microsoft Windows by encrypting users’ computer files and displaying a message demanding a ransom of $400 to $820 to release them; failure to pay would leave the data mangled and likely beyond repair.
Hutchins said he came 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 kill switch. 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, government agencies 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.
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 new-found 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.
Hutchins’ mother Janet, a nurse, couldn’t be prouder — and was happy to have the veil of anonymity lifted. When her son made the breakthrough, she said, she wanted to tell the world about it.
“I wanted to scream, but I couldn’t,” she said. I’m sure those working within Technology at the NHS etc shared her reaction to wanna cry, by wanting to scream with relief #WannaScream
And now Marcus is somewhat of a celebrity. He’s been in touch with the FBI, as well as British national cybersecurity officials. His new life is likely to be a big adjustment. Hutchins works out of his bedroom in the seaside resort town of Ilfracombe on a sophisticated computer setup with three large screens. The concept of celebrity was clearly foreign to him.
And now the biggest accolade is the worlds leading Online takeaway company JUST EAT deciding it was only right to spread some cheesy love of their own and provide Marcus with his very own supply of piping-hot pizza, free for a whole year from any Just Eat restaurant. As rewards go, I can think of worse 😉
Not only is Marcus now the envy of cyber security professionals across the globe, he is now the envy of fellow pizza loving foodies across the world and a good guy to know when you have the munchies!
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