The WannaCry ransomware attack of May 2017 wasn’t aimed at the NHS, it was spread across Europe and Asia and happened to hit the NHS very hard for a series of reasons including that they had old Windows 95 machines on their network and because their network has a huge number of computers attached to it. The ransomware demands users pay $300 worth of online currency Bitcoins to retrieve their files, but the price goes up if they don’t pay quickly and of course there is no guarantee that payment allows file retrieval.
An anonymous UK cybersecurity researcher (known by the Twitter handle @malwaretechblog) with the help of Darien Huss from security firm Proofpoint looked at the ransomware and discovered the name of a website which was being accessed by the ransomware. But the website address hadn’t been registered by anyone. He bought the domain name in order to track the activities of the ransomware but in fact it was a “kill switch” that stopped the ransomware from spreading any further. Well done, if unintentionally.
That didn’t help the people whose computers had already been infected but it stop the outbreak from continuing.
Unfortunately once the scammers realised how the malware had been stopped, they created and released a version that ignored the kill switch. But at least people had time to build defences against another attack.
The researcher, who identified himself only as MalwareTech, is a 22-year-old from south-west England who works for Kryptos logic.
MalwareTech explained that he bought the domain because his company tracks botnets (automated networks of controlled computers), and by registering these domains they can get an insight into how the botnet is spreading. “The intent was to just monitor the spread and see if we could do anything about it later on. But we actually stopped the spread just by registering the domain,” he said. But the following hours were an “emotional rollercoaster”.
He also said he planned to hold onto the URL, and he and colleagues were collecting the IPs and sending them off to law enforcement agencies so they can notify the infected victims, not all of whom are aware that they have been affected.
He said he got his first job out of school without any real qualifications, having skipped university to start up a tech blog and write software.
“It’s always been a hobby to me, I’m self-taught. I ended up getting a job out of my first botnet tracker, which the company I now work for saw and contacted me about, asking if I wanted a job. I’ve been working there a year and two months now.”
Well done hero – he’s now an honorary Ninja.
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