Industry rallies legal defense fund for researcher accused of computer crimes

Industry rallies legal defense fund for researcher accused of computer crimes
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The legal defense fund for a British cybersecurity researcher arrested last week in Las Vegas is so popular, it crashed a payment processor's servers, according to the lawyer who set up the fund.

"It's indicative of the level of support he has," said Tor Ekeland, an attorney who specializes in computer crimes involved in setting up the fund, but not in the legal representation of  Marcus Hutchins, "and of how outraged people are."

Hutchins is accused of developing Kronos, malware designed to steal banking account information. He is expected to post $30,000 bond Monday to secure his release from jail. He will have to surrender his passport and agree to not use the internet.

Hutchins is well known in the security industry for finding the "kill switch" in the design of the WannaCry malware, code that allowed Hutchins to globally halt its spread. Over a period of a few hours in May, WannaCry had caused massive international damage — including forcing hospitals in the U.K. to turn away patients. Flipping the switch prevented untold damage. 

Kronos was released in 2014. According to Hutchins's indictment, he developed the malware with a co-conspirator whose name was redacted. 

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The legal defense fund was spearheaded by Symantec employee Tara Wheeler, who Ekeland said originally tried to host the donation portal on the site GoFundMe before the site determined that legal funds violated its terms of service. Ekeland volunteered his firm's website and credit card processor to host the fund in GoFundMe's stead. 

The fund began accepting donations over the weekend, a few days after Hutchins was arrested. He is being tried in Wisconsin and is represented by attorney Adrain Lobo.

On Friday, Ekeland discussed his concerns about the case with The Hill, which included a chilling effect on other researchers. 

Several thousand people have already attempted to donate to the fund.