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BBC Visits ‘Hated and Hunted’ Ransomware Expert

In “Hated and hunted,” a BBC reporter describes visiting a ransomware expert “who has devoted himself, at huge personal cost, to helping victims of ransomware around the world.”

They hate him so much that they leave him angry threats buried deep inside the code of their own viruses… “I was shocked but I also felt a real sense of pride,” says Fabian. “Almost like, a little bit cocky. I’m not going to lie, yeah, it was nice….” He works remotely for a cyber security company, often sitting for hours at a time working with colleagues in different countries. When he’s “in the zone”, the outside world becomes even less important and his entire existence focuses on the code on his screen. He once woke up with keyboard imprints all over his face after falling asleep during a 35-hour session.
All of this to create anti-ransomware programs that he and his company usually give away free. Victims simply download the tools he makes for each virus, follow the instructions and get their files back… According to research from Emsisoft, the cyber security company Fabian works for, a computer is attacked every two seconds. Their network has managed to prevent 2,584,105 infections in the past 60 days — and that’s just one anti-virus firm of dozens around the world…. “It’s pretty much an arms race,” says Fabian. “They release a new ransomware virus, I find a flaw in its code and build the decryption tool to reverse it so people can get their files back. Then the criminals release a new version which they hope I can’t break… It escalates with them getting more and more angry with me….”
Fabian accepts that moving around and restricting his life and circle of friends is just a part of the sacrifice for his hobby-turned-profession… He earns a very good salary but looking around his home and at his life it’s hard to see how he spends it.

He estimates that he’s “upset or angered” 100 different ransomware gangs (based on his analysis of the Bitcoin wallets where they collect their ransoms.) One group had collected about $250,000 (£191,000) in three months — until Fabian created a countering anti-ransomware program — which is one reason he carefully hids his identity.

“I know how much money they make and it would be literally nothing for them to drop 10 or 20,000 for like some Russian dude to turn up to my house and beat the living hell out of me.”


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