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 Monday 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."
The 22-year-old surfer from the south coast of England, discovered a so-called "kill switch" that slowed the unprecedented outbreak on Friday. He has spent the next three days fighting the worm that crippled Britain's hospital network as well as computer systems around the world.
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WannaCry paralyzed computers running mostly older versions of Microsoft Windows in some 150 countries. It encrypted users' computer files and displayed a message demanding anywhere from $300 to $600 to release them; failure to pay would leave the data mangled and likely beyond repair.
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.
Salim Neino, CEO of Kryptos Logic, said 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," 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.
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.
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.
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."