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WannaCry ‘Hero’ Pleads Not Guilty To Kronos Malware Charges

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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Marcus Hutchins, who helped stop the WannaCry attack, rejects six charges of helping to create and spread the Kronos banking malware

The British security researcher who inadvertently stopped the global WannaCry ransomware campaign in May, has pleaded not guilty to charges in the US of developing and distributing the ‘Kronos’ banking malware. 

Marcus Hutchins, otherwise known as ‘Malwaretech’ on social media, was arrested by the FBI on 2 August in Nevada, after he attended the Black Hat and Def Con hacking conference in Las Vegas 

During a hearing in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Marcus Hutchins rejected six charges relating to the Kronos malware and will now face trial in October. Friends and family raised his £23,000 bail, the terms of which forbade him from using a computer. That restriction has now been lifted. 

malware

Kronos malware 

A second defendant is also included in the indictment, but their name has not been made public. 

Essentially, the DoJ believes that Hutchins is responsible for the creation and distribution of Kronos on Internet forums. 

This was a nasty piece of malware that was designed to steal banking login and other financial data from infected computers. It first came to prominence in 2014 after it posed as legitimate software in order to infect people’s computers. 

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Its creator boasted it could evade existing anti-virus software and said it worked with Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome web browsers. The creator also (unusually) promised to deliver free upgrades and bug fixes for the trojan, and even offered attackers a one week trial for $1,000. 

Kronos resurfaced again in October 2015 after it reportedly attacked both British and Indian banking websites. 

Then in May 2016 it hit customers of Canadian financial institutions, and last November Kronos was apparently being distributed in emails sent to financial service firms, hospitality businesses, as well as those companies operating in the higher education and healthcare industries. 

It has been suggested by some that code written by Hutchins was ‘stolen’ and incorporated into Kronos. 

If found guilty, Hutchins could be jailed for 40 years. 

‘Hero’ Researcher 

The fact that the FBI believes that Hutchins was responsible for this trojan has come as a surprise to many. 

When the WannaCry ransowmware spread rapidly through computer systems around the world in May, it crippled huge swathes of NHS IT infrastructure.  As the ransomware attack began to take hold, Hutchins obtained a sample of the malware from a fellow researcher. 

Hutchins then tested the ransomware in a virtual environment and discovered it queried an unregistered domain. He had noted the malware was connecting to multiple IP addresses targeting a server message block (SMB) vulnerability. 

He then registered the domain, an action which ultimately resulted in the botnet being terminated.  Hutchins actions only emerged days after the first WannaCry attacks. 

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