He stared at the vehicle blankly, his mind still hazed from sleep deprivation and stoned from the legalized Nevada weed he’d been smoking all night. For a fleeting moment, he wondered: Is this finally it?
Hutchins was coming off of an epic, exhausting week at Defcon, one of the world’s largest hacker conferences, where he had been celebrated as a hero. Less than three months earlier, Hutchins had saved the internet from what was, at the time, the worst cyberattack in history: a piece of malware called WannaCry. Just as that self-propagating software had begun exploding across the planet, destroying data on hundreds of thousands of computers, it was Hutchins who had found and triggered the secret kill switch contained in its code, neutering WannaCry’s global threat immediately.
This legendary feat of whitehat hacking had essentially earned Hutchins free drinks for life among the Defcon crowd. He and his entourage had been invited to every VIP hacker party on the strip, taken out to dinner by journalists, and accosted by fans seeking selfies. The story, after all, was irresistible: Hutchins was the shy geek who had single-handedly slain a monster threatening the entire digital world, all while sitting in front of a keyboard in a bedroom in his parents’ house in remote western England.
When Hutchins arrived at the airport and made his way through the security checkpoint, he was surprised when TSA agents told him not to bother taking any of his three laptops out of his backpack before putting it through the scanner. Instead, as they waved him through, he remembers thinking that they seemed to be making a special effort not to delay him.
He wandered leisurely to an airport lounge, grabbed a Coke, and settled into an armchair. He was still hours early for his flight back to the UK, so he killed time posting from his phone to Twitter, writing how excited he was to get back to his job analyzing malware when he got home. “Haven’t touched a debugger in over a month now,” he tweeted. He humblebragged about some very expensive shoes his boss had bought him in Vegas and retweeted a compliment from a fan of his reverse-engineering wor