One way to secure tech infrastructure

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By now, most of the world is aware of the ransomware attack that spread like wildfire through global computer systems. Using an exploit stolen from the National Security Agency in the United States, hackers took advantage of a known flaw in several Microsoft operating systems to take control of computers and encrypt data until victims paid a ransom in bitcoin. The hack was only stopped after a malware researcher found a kill switch, but analysts believe that more systems could be attacked in the coming days.

This attack highlights a larger problem with proprietory software and hardware sold by companies such as Microsoft. Customers pay for extra features and even enhanced “virus protection” software. As such, security, in some types of computing, is a commodity. With regards to the recent ransomware attack, the NSA alerted Microsoft to the vulnerabilities in their operating platforms. Microsoft responded with a special security patch for older operating systems such as Windows XP.

Only after the attack began, did Microsoft begin aggressively pushing the security patch and targeting Windows XP users. Not all technology companies operate according to Microsoft’s business model. Google and Apple, for example, have built security-minded infrastructure and offer programs such as Google Docs for free. As such, Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS, and Google’s Chrome operating system have both been designed with virus protection in mind. Security updates are pushed out to users as soon as a new virus is discovered. More importantly, these updates are hard to avoid as anyone with an iPhone can attest. On Google’s operating platform, updates quietly happen in the background without the need for users to check to see if their system is up-to-date.

That is one lesson of this global computer attack. Our computer infrastructure is shockingly vulnerable to both criminal and extremist attack. In the interest of defence, security updates should happen on a regular basis and can’t be subject to monetisation. Technology companies can still expand profits with the creation of new features and operating systems but the security of our individual devices is arguably in the public interest.

We can’t stop malware and viruses but we can defend ourselves by demanding that technology companies don’t leave our devices vulnerable to known flaws and exploits.

 

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