Marcus Hutchins, the man who helped stop the WannaCry ransomware attacks and was subsequently arrested in the U.S. for creating and selling a banking trojan, has claimed that authorities forced a confession out of him when he was ‘intoxicated and sleep-deprived’.
Before he shot to fame following the WannaCry ransomware attacks, Hutchins feared that he would be targeted by authorities because of his nature of work.
‘A security blogger had people send heroin to his house and try to frame him after his identity was leaked and he even had death threats. I’ve seen posts about the terrible things people have done to him and for me in future it could be the same things,’ he told the Daily Mail.
Back in August, while heading back to London from Las Vegas, Hutchins was arrested by the FBI after being indicted by a U.S. court for creating and distributing Kronos, a banking Trojan that is used by cyber criminals to steal banking passwords and other financial information.
The charges against Hutchins included conspiracy to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, selling and advertising wiretapping devices, and aiding and abetting a hacking attempt. The indictment also says that he and his accomplice charged between $2,000 (£1,523) and $3,000 (£2,284) for Kronos malware samples.
While the FBI claimed that Hutchins had confessed, his lawyers told a court in U.S. that his confession was extracted at a time when he was ‘intoxicated and sleep-deprived’. According to the Daily Mail, they added that since authorities kept him under detailed surveillance before his arrest, they knew that ‘he was exhausted and intoxicated at the time’.
‘As such, his decision to speak with the agents was not knowing, intelligent, and made in full awareness of the nature of the right given up and the consequences of giving up that right, as the law requires,’ they said.
Following his arrest in August, Hutchins received widespread support from the security researchers and ethical hackers across the world. Those who knew him said that his passion was to find malware and not to create one. His mother has expressed ‘outrage’ over his indictment and said that he was a dedicated malware researcher who spent enormous amounts of time in researching and combating malware attacks.
According to Ryan Kalember, a security researcher at Proofpoint, malware researchers have to dig deep and interact in malware-selling forums to find out what they need to know. As such, they end up leaving as much footprint as any other malware developer or seller.
“This could very easily be the FBI mistaking legitimate research activity with being in control of Kronos infrastructure. Lots of researchers like to log in to crimeware tools and interfaces and play around. It’s not an uncommon thing for researchers to do and I don’t know if the FBI could tell the difference,” he said.
It remains to be seen if Hutchins will be exonerated by U.S. courts or whether his malware-hunting activities would land him in further trouble in the days ahead. As of now, Hutchins is out on bail and is working at a Los Angeles-based security firm.