LAS VEGAS (AP) – A Tuesday court date looms in Wisconsin for a British cybersecurity researcher arrested last week in Las Vegas on charges that, years before he won acclaim for helping to stop a worldwide ransomware attack, he created and distributed a malware program to pilfer banking passwords from unsuspecting computer users.
Marcus Hutchins, 23, of Ilfracombe, England, was still being held Monday in federal custody in a jail outside Las Vegas, where he was arrested last week at McCarran International Airport following the Def Con convention for computer security professionals.
Electronic Frontier Foundation general counsel Kurt Opsahl said he was awaiting word that bail had been posted and that Hutchins has been released from federal custody. The foundation, a digital civil-liberties nonprofit, was helping Hutchins obtain legal counsel.
Hutchins’ attorney in Las Vegas, Adrian Lobo, didn’t immediately respond to telephone and email messages from The Associated Press.
Hutchins is scheduled to appear Tuesday morning in federal court in Milwaukee on six charges, including conspiracy to commit computer fraud in 2014 and 2015. He is accused of creating and distributing malicious software called Kronos designed to steal banking passwords.
Hutchins was credited with helping in May to curb the spread of WannaCry ransomware during an attack that crippled thousands of computers worldwide.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Nancy Koppe in Las Vegas said when she set bail at $30,000 that he could be released Monday. The judge decided Hutchins was not a danger to the community and wasn’t a risk not to appear for future court proceedings.
But Koppe ordered Hutchins to surrender his passport and said Hutchins could fly to Wisconsin without identification.
It’s wasn’t clear if there was a snag on Monday, if Hutchins couldn’t raise bail or if he would be taken to Wisconsin in federal custody.
Hutchins did not enter a plea at Friday’s hearing. The other charges he faces are distributing and advertising an electronic communication interception device, attempting to intercept electronic communications, and trying to access a computer without authorization. He could face decades in federal prison if he is convicted.
An indictment filed last month in Milwaukee was unsealed after Hutchins’ arrest last Wednesday.
It says Hutchins and another defendant, whose name was redacted, conspired between July 2014 and July 2015 to advertise, sell and profit from the Kronos banking Trojan malware. The indictment accuses Hutchins of creating the malware and enabling cybertheft by spreading a program that can infect web browsers and capture usernames and passwords.
Hutchins has support in the information-security community, where some call him a principled, ethical hacker.
His mother, Janet, called it “hugely unlikely” her son was involved in illegalities because he spends much of his time combatting malware attacks.
In May, the curly-haired computer whiz and surfing enthusiast discovered a so-called “kill switch” that slowed the unprecedented WannaCry outbreak. He then spent three days fighting the worm that crippled British hospitals and factories, government agencies, banks and other businesses around the world.
Though Hutchins had previously worked under the alias MalwareTech, cracking WannaCry led to the loss of his anonymity and propelled him to cyber stardom – including public appearances and a $10,000 prize for cracking WannaCry. He said he planned to donate the money to charity.
He told The Associated Press at the time that he didn’t think he would ever return to being the “MalwareTech” that everyone knew.
Associated Press writer Danica Kirka in London contributed to this report.
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