Gold in Them Thar Patients

Gold in Them Thar Patients

Article from Issue 201/2017

Drying the tears of WannaCry

Another month, another catastrophic computer hack. WannaCry, the ransomware that has cost at least £100m in canceled UK National Health Service (NHS) operations, brought the world of Ye Olde Windows XP machines to its knees, to the bafflement of many and consternation of all.

The advice given by the authorities was the same as always: Update Windows, upgrade to Windows 10 if you haven't already, and don't download any dodgy email attachments. Most media types use Macs, so the accompanying image to illustrate these stories was most often a shiny new MacBook; hardly the most likely machine to become infected with a virus written to exploit holes in Windows.

The preceding two paragraphs could have been written at any time in the last 10 years and will all too predictably be recycled in some form on many occasions over the next 10 years. But things are changing.

First of all, the argument that Windows only gets hacked more often than Linux because it's more widespread, or offers the biggest attack vector, is obsolete. If hackers wanted to attack the greatest number of machines, they'd go after Android or iOS. We can demonstrate that popularity is not the only thing making Windows vulnerable, and that a relative lack of popularity is not what's keeping Linux safe.

Also, there's genuine anger against the powers that be this time. By attacking the NHS, WannaCry's writers have hit the British public where it hurts. We'll remember, and lash out at the idiots who thought it a good idea to "save money" by running life-saving machinery on old proprietary software. The next politician who puts forward the idea of migrating to Linux will win votes, because now we (and by "we" I mean the masses, not we, the Linux users who've understood the implications of open vs. closed source software since the beginning of time) understand the consequences of taking a risk with patient records.

Linux. Oh, Linux. Now you have a competitive advantage. The business case for Linux desktop deployments is unanswerable in any organization that expects to be around for any more than 20 years. If only there were some sort of foundation dedicated to promoting Linux that could put forward a solution other than "upgrade to Windows 10." If only we had someone willing to be interviewed who could constantly use the term Windows virus rather than let the whole industry be libeled with the phrase computer virus.

Andrew Neil, who, as a journalist covering UK politics, is quite brilliant, admitted that he wanted to go into more depth on WannaCry but didn't feel he had the technical know-how to ask the right questions. He's typical of the open door against which our new foundation needs to push. Just a few press releases, a couple of quotes, a microsite, and a few estimates of how much it would cost to migrate a health trust to Linux (and of the costs of not doing so) would contribute so much to public discourse and give the right people the ammunition for when they go to bat against a government minister, health trust chief executive, or Microsoft representative.

Come on, People's Popular Foundation of Linux: We can do this!

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