The Good Samaritan ransomware fighter

Ransomware is the practice of hackers getting into computers, encrypting all the data, and then demanding a ransom payment, usually in the form of bitcoin or other cryptocurrency, for the key to decrypt the data. Many institutions have paid up.

ProPublica profiles Michael Gillespie who has helped hundreds of people recover their files for free, although he and his family are really hard up. Although he is just 27, he is a cancer survivor and his wife is a diabetic and they have a lot of medical expenses and he does not earn much at his regular job, so much so that he took on a 2:00 am newspaper delivery route to earn a little extra money. But he refuses to charge ransomware victims for his services because he doesn’t want to take advantage f people who have already been taken advantage of.

Like a real-life version of Clark Kent or Peter Parker, the self-effacing Gillespie morphs in his spare time into a crime-foiling superhero. A cancer survivor who works at a Nerds on Call computer repair shop and has been overwhelmed by debt — he and his wife had a car repossessed and their home nearly foreclosed on — the 27-year-old Gillespie has become, with little fanfare or reward, one of the world’s leading conquerors of an especially common and virulent cybercrime: ransomware. Asked what motivates him, he replied, “I guess it’s just the affinity for challenge and feeling like I am contributing to beating the bad guys.”

There are almost 800 known types of ransomware, and Gillespie, mostly by himself but sometimes collaborating with other ransomware hunters, has cracked more than 100 of them. Hundreds of thousands of victims have downloaded his decryption tools for free, potentially saving them from paying hundreds of millions of dollars in ransom.

Gillespie’s tools are available on, and they can be accessed through a site he created and operates, called ID Ransomware. There, victims submit about 2,000 ransomware-stricken files every day to find out which strain has hit them and to obtain an antidote, if one exists.

The internet can be a cesspool of grifters, conmen and women, and all-round lowlifes seeking the most vulnerable to prey on and one can quickly become cynical. But then one comes across people like Gillespie and it helps restore one’s faith in humanity.


  1. Mano Singham says

    Thanks for those links! I had not been aware of her before. She seems like she was a wonderful person.

  2. says

    I have three hard drives, each one of them with a complete copy of all my digital data. One is inside my computer, the other two aren’t connected to any computer (except for when I’m synchronizing them one at a time). I use Funduc Directory Toolkit software for synchronizing everything on a regular basis.

    I once lost my data back when I was 16 and my computer broke. That’s when I started making backups. Hearing about the existence of ransomware prompted me to store my backup hard drives away from any device connected to the Internet.

  3. says

    Organizations that get ransomware usually get it because they chose to be sloppy about security or incompetent about IT. It doesn’t mean they aren’t victims, but they are going to be victimized over and over because they are going to make the same bad decisions.

    IT is hard. Organizations that think its easy are being stupid.

  4. lanir says

    This sort of thing doesn’t really restore my faith in humanity. Seeing the guy get a good job because of the article that helps him solve some of the issues he’s having, that would restore my faith in humanity.

    Finding out that someone is having significant financial issues while helping people who largely don’t bother helping him in return is not great. It reminds me too much of the scumbag religious teaching that no matter how little you have, you should offer it to your church because that’s a wonderful thing to do. It’s sort of rebadged to “society” instead of “church” because in modern times because it makes the churches look less like the rapacious, moneygrubbing monsters they actually are.

    And as for IT & organizations… Most companies I’ve dealt with seem to be run by people who think everything they could hire someone to do is easy. It’s the Randian/Dear Leader philosophy on management. They may not all be hardcore about it but it’s hard to find someone in upper management who hasn’t drunk at least some of that kool-aid. Since IT is a newer part of industry with evolving capabilities, the availability of a free fix that any random person in their organization can find and use will tend to reinforce their bad ideas and justify their ignorant assumptions rather than act as a corrective force.

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