Despite in the last months the infection number is decreasing (source), finding yourself with personal or corporate files blocked by a ransomware attack is a widespread drama.
But luckily there are little-known people who work to get out of trouble those who have stumbled upon these ransomware: hundreds of thousands of people around the world have in fact recovered their data, without paying any ransom, thanks to the silent work of Michael Gillespie from Normal, Illinois.
Gillespie is in fact the author of many decryptors that helps about 2000 people a day: of the 800 ransomware known, over 100 have can be decrypted with Michaels' tools.
Furthermore, Gillespie offers its decryptors for free through the sites BleepingComputer and ID Ransomware, often works with FBI and international police forces but it's all volunteer work: he only accepts voluntary donations, despite his poor financial (and health) situation:
Gillespie “doesn’t chase money,” Jacobs said. “If he were chasing money, he would have been living on the East or West Coast by now and doing something for some company that we’d all heard of instead of a little service provider in the Midwest. But he’s one of those guys, he operates very heavily on principle.”
To make ends meet, Gillespie supplemented his Nerds on Call salary with a 2 a.m. paper route, delivering the local newspaper on his bike. While he had enjoyed having a paper route in junior high, the job now depressed him. But the family bills were mounting, especially for health care. Morgan Gillespie struggled with diabetes and other medical issues. Over the years, Michael Gillespie noticed blood in his urine, and in the fall of 2017, his wife finally made him see a doctor. The physician removed a tumor and diagnosed bladder cancer, which rarely affects young adults. Gillespie took one day off for surgery and one to recover before returning to work. He underwent immunotherapy treatment weekly for two months, and the cancer has been in remission since. Although he was insured through Nerds on Call, the costs for his care still added up.
The couple reached a financial breaking point. They racked up credit card debt and fell behind on payments on Morgan Gillespie’s Nissan. They rotated which utility bills they would pay; one month their electricity would be turned off, and the next month it would be gas. They surrendered the car to the bank, which sold it at a loss at auction and forced them to make up the difference. Last year, around the time his wife lost her job as a nanny, they missed four mortgage payments on their house and began to receive foreclosure notices, Michael Gillespie said.
You can read the story of Gillespie on ProPublica: The Ransomware Superhero of Normal, Illinois