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 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 the weekend. 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 hundreds of dollars 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 analysing 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" before it could fully affect the United States.
"Marcus, with the programme 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."
He said the company was not able to identify "Patient Zero," the first system infected, which would give researchers more information about who was behind the attack. Nevertheless, he 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.
Hutchins has long tweeted under the handle MalwareTech, which features a profile photo of a pouty-faced cat wearing enormous sunglasses. But he realises his newfound fame will mean an end to the anonymity.
After all, now he's a computer celebrity. He's been in touch with the FBI, as well as British national cyber security officials.