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How a Tiny Cybersecurity Firm Stopped a Global Ransomware Attack

Salim Neino had been waiting for something like WannaCry. Fast, indiscriminate and disruptive, the computer infection locked up computers in British hospitals and was spreading across the world when Neino’s company Kryptos Logic stepped into the ring.

One of his researchers found a so-called kill switch in the WannaCry code and pounced. “We put it in a triangle choke!” joked Neino, a mixed-martial-arts fan.

Not bad for a 33-year-old Lawndale native and Cal State Long Beach grad, who co-founded Kryptos eight years ago with $120,000.

The mid-May episode thrust the small Los Angeles cybersecurity company onto a world stage. At the same time, it has opened a new era of broad-scale ransomware attacks — a fact driven home this week when a second worm, exploiting the same methods as WannaCry, briefly seized computers worldwide again, this time hitting oil, electric and shipping operations.

Neino has been quick to capitalize on the business opportunities from his new prominence. But he has also tried to use this status as ransomware wrangler to push for policy changes — measures he says are needed to cope with this new landscape of cyber-mayhem.

Testifying before Congress between attacks, Neino spelled out his proposal for a cybersecurity “Richter scale” — a triage system to help the public prioritize threats — and warned lawmakers against underrating the peril.

With WannaCry, and Tuesday’s reprise of it, the world got off easy, he insisted: “They had the bomb, they didn’t have the GPS.”

Up until last month, Kryptos was just another little-known boutique cybersecurity company operating, as much as possible, “in stealth mode,” Neino said. It does no marketing, employs no sales force and its workers guard their anonymity. The reason is that revenge hackers commonly target cybersecurity companies.

Genial, earnest and still fit from his wrestling days, Neino is the son of a Jordanian immigrant father…

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