A British cybersecurity researcher credited with stopping a worldwide computer virus has pleaded guilty to developing malware to steal banking information.
Federal prosecutors in Wisconsin and Marcus Hutchinsâ attorneys said in a joint court filing April 19, that the 24-year-old agreed to plead guilty to developing malware called Kronos and conspiring to distribute it from 2012 to 2015. In exchange for his plea to those charges, prosecutors dismissed eight more.
âAs you may be aware, Iâve pleaded guilty to two charges related to writing malware in the years prior to my career in security,â Hutchins said in a statement on his website. âI regret these actions and accept full responsibility for my mistakes. Having grown up, Iâve since been using the same skills that I misused several years ago for constructive purposes. I will continue to devote my time to keeping people safe from malware attacks.â
Hutchins faces up 10 years in prison but could receive a more lenient sentence for accepting responsibility, the court filing said. Attorneys said Hutchins understands he could be deported.
Sentencing has not been scheduled.
Hutchinsâ arrest in Las Vegas in August 2017, as he was about to board a flight to England, came as a shock; just months earlier he was hailed a hero for finding a âkill switchâ to the WannaCry virus that crippled computers worldwide. At the time, he told The Associated Press in an interview that he didnât consider himself a hero but that he was combating malware because âitâs the right thing to do.â
Prosecutors said Hutchins made incriminating statements during a two-hour interrogation, and later during a jailhouse phone call that Hutchins was told was being recorded, he told an unidentified person that he âused to write malwareâ years before.
âI knew it was always going to come back,â Hutchins said on the call, but that he didnât âthink it would be so soon.â
Prosecutors said in court filings that Hutchins sold the Kronos software to someone in Wisconsin and that he âpersonally deliveredâ the software to someone in California. The malware was designed âto intercept communications and collect personal information, including usernames, passwords, email addresses, and financial dataâ from computers, prosecutors said.
Kronos was âused to infect numerous computers around the world and steal banking information,â prosecutors said, without providing an exact number. Itâs unclear how much Hutchinsâ profited from creating the malware, but in online chats, the FBI intercepted on November 2014, Hutchinsâ lamented he had only made USD8,000 from five sales. Hutchins said he thought he would be making around USD100,000 annually by selling Kronos with one of his conspirators, who is not named in the indictment.
Hutchins initially pleaded not guilty to all the charges and was scheduled to go on trial in July. While his case has been pending, prosecutors barred Hutchins from returning home. He has been living in California, working as a cybersecurity consultant.