WannaCry: Free software is the way forward

Written by: Shijil
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The world is still under the shock from the recent WannaCry attack. Though experts claim the situation is under control, they don't rule out the possibilities of more such attacks in the coming days. As per reports, WannaCry ransomware (a type of malware) affected approximately 230,000 computers in 150 countries, bringing regular operations to a halt in many places. The most affected are America shipping companies and healthcare systems in the United Kingdom. The impact of this attack is comparatively low in India.

Want to keep your computers safe? Experts suggest adopting free software

What is ransomware?

Ransomware is a malware (or a malicious programme) which encrypts files in computers or smartphones and makes them unusable and demand money for decrypting the files. In the recent attack, which is considered one of the massive ransomware attacks, crackers were demanding $300 to $500 bitcoin for decrypting the file.

What is WannaCry ransomware?

WannaCry is the name of the ransomware that targets the Microsoft Windows operating system. This malware was used to launch the WannaCry ransomware attack on May 12. Sometimes it uses different names like WannaCrypt, WannaCry, WanaCrypt0r, WCrypt and WCRY, to name a few.

Crackers used the loophole present in Microsoft SMB Protocol to spread this program to other computers. All machine running the version of Windows operating system before windows 10 without MS17 -010 security patch are prone to this ransomware attack.

Immediate measures to block such attacks in future?

  1. Update the security patch MS17-010 released by Microsoft at the earliest.
  2. Block port numbers 39, 445, 3389 in your firewall
  3. Avoid clicking unknown links while using the Internet
  4. Avoid opening email attachments from unknown contacts
  5. Disable SMB in windows operating system
  6. Set pop-up blocked in your browser
  7. Keep your data backup regularly and store in the cloud environment. 

The long term solution?

Fixing a problem permanently lies on how better we understand the root cause of the problem. I don't think anyone can build completely foolproof programmes or an operating system that is not prone to any sort of such attacks.

But a programme and its source code under public scrutiny can identify the loopholes in the system and patch immediately before crackers exploit that vulnerability. This is the main reason all major malware attacks are mainly affecting proprietary software like Microsoft Windows operating systems.

When a user does not have any control over the programme that she is running, the program controls the user. That also makes it is easy for someone else to take complete control over that computer or smartphone. In the case of free software, user controls the program and the source code is open for everyone to access that in turns make free software very much secured compared to any other proprietary software.

Unlikely from the past, nowadays, free software operating systems (GNU/Linux ) are more user-friendly and easy to use. Ubuntu, Mint, Debian Fedora are widely used PC operating system with a greater community support. By taking a decision to migrate from proprietary operating system to a GNU/Linux operating systems, you are not only staying safe but also become part of culture and community who believe in sharing and collaborating.

The NSA's role here?

The malware is spread on the network by leveraging the vulnerability in "Server Message Block" (SMB), a network protocol in the Windows Operating System. Last month it was revealed that the software "EternalBlue" developed by the American National Security Agency (NSA) and has used to leak personal information using this security vulnerability. WannaCry is believed to be using the same software. The unholy alliance between the American IT giants and the National Security Agency is no more a secret.

Edward Snowden, a national security contractor, was one of the first persons to disclose this illicit relationship between the NSA and American IT giants which revealed the massive surveillance programme targeting the citizens with the direct help of American IT giants.

Hence, any long-term solutions need to be discussed and developed outside the ambit of the unholy alliance between the NSA and IT giants, the free software way.

(The writer is a software engineer and a member of Free Software Movement Karnataka)

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