WannaCry happened because business has governments in their back pocket.
The WannaCry virus has hit organisations and companies around the world, most notably in Britain affecting hospital systems of the NHS. The attack is a tragic failure to protect the public from technological faults, but the root cause of the exploitation’s success goes deeper than technical fault.
Today, government and the NHS make decisions on an increasingly business-minded, financial basis. Organisations have always had to distribute scarce resources, but the present regime suggests absolute inflexibility over numbers — we must balance the books, they say, as though money is a natural resource and not a facilitating tool.
The result is an observably short-term, cost-saving modus operandi, to the detriment of long-term healthcare planning, including preventative methods like eradicating homelessness, improving public fitness or providing at-home care services. This rationale also ignores long-term support for technology.
In 2015, the Tory government “binned extended Windows XP support” whilst fully aware their departments would continue to use the system — a bit like a bus company firing their garage engineers but keeping the old machines. The rejected £5 million pound contract could have stood in the way of mass data loss and danger to health patients.
Why was it rejected? Because government, ‘rolled back’ by successive governments (both Tory and Labour), was now fully exposed to market forces. With a budget limited by an ideology of government-as-business, the short-term was prioritised over the long-term with devastating results.
But the problem runs much deeper.
The British state, in transforming itself into a fully corporate machine, both models a company and directly favours them. ‘Contracting out’ is the model of choice for public services, supposedly to get the best bang for buck, but the market for government contracts is in reality dominated by a few large companies. In 2013 15% of government spending was to outsourced companies, and those companies relied on public sector contracts for 73% of their revenue.
The NAO notes that from 1 January 2006 to 30 September 2013, the value of these businesses on the stock market has risen much more than the value of FTSE 100 companies in general. In that period, the FTSE 100 index increased 26%, whereas Capita’s share price rose 141% and G4S’s 94%.
That would suggest investors aren’t remotely worried that the profitability of government contracts is too slim. (BBC)
It thus becomes imperative for outsourcers like Microsoft to maintain the state’s custom, and not lose out to free software. For there is no monopoly on the supply of systems technology, but systems technology companies make the lion share of their profits from these large government consumers — something approaching a demand-side monopoly.
Since better-than-the-market profits are possible, corporate influence has convinced the State, and organisations around the world, that Microsoft is the only legit solution. In the short-term, the government may have turned down the MS service contract, but it doesn’t take a prophet to guess which company’s OS they’ll choose for upgrade. So the Microsoft-Government love-in cycle goes on.
It didn’t have to be. Windows XP never had to be the OS of choice for government. Other solutions — free solutions — exist (and existed when the NHS went digital) like Linux.
This is not to argue that Linux has no flaws. But hackers have focused on exploiting Windows because it is the ubiquitous office operating system. There is a reason why you can get by on a Mac without virus protection, and it has nothing to do with Apple being genius know-it-all security geeks: it is just no smart to waste your time on hacking Apple products, unless you’re going after a specific spec of gold (like the iCloud celebrity hack). In most cases, hackers are best-paid by targeting Windows.
They say an NSA tool known as Eternal Blue looks like it has been incorporated into the ransomware’s architecture; Eternal Blue allows the ransomware to spread laterally across businesses’ computer networks through a vulnerability in commonly used Windows file-sharing systems.(Financial Times)
Domination of for-profit software hegemonies is prolonged and enforced in a vicious circle by big businesses and business-strangled governments, but public services could have be using equally useful free software. Indeed, the Estonian government has spent only 0.1% of their IT budget on software contracts, instead opting for open source as a policy.
Diversity in global technology allows our systems to withstand viruses in much the same way as ecological diversity prevents organic viruses from killing off a whole species.
In 1959 methicillin was licensed in England to treat penicillin-resistant S. aureus infections. Just as bacterial evolution had allowed microbes to develop resistance to penicillin, strains of S. aureus evolved to become resistant to methicillin…
From 1968 to the mid-1990s the percent of S. aureus infections that were caused by MRSA increased steadily, and MRSA became recognized as an endemic pathogen. (Wikipedia)
If superbugs like MSRA were caused by the irresponsible use of antibiotics against one problem by the NHS, then the global computer virus fiasco we’ve seen today has been caused by virtually every world government’s reliance on Microsoft Windows.
Free Market Suffering
The result is written out in the headlines today, and in the suffering of people up and down the country who will miss their surgeries, be turned away at A&E, and not receive the national health service they were promised. The state has become corporatised, its services regulated by the market and not by the needs of its citizenry.
The result is, in the short-term, carelessness at best and ill-preparation at worst. In the long-term, the market has unnecessarily made our governments slaves to the profit requirements of private companies.
Privatisation has given birth to a truly sad new form of public service that lacks a genuine care for its purpose — one that stands for ‘cost-cutting’ and results in private benefit. We see the same across government. “2,000 disabled people wrongly declared ‘fit to work’ by DWP in just three months” thanks to private evaluation officers. The results are horrific: people with no legs told that they should climb stairs; people dying directly after being told they are fit-to-work; private security guards killing those they detain.
All this, despite contractors costing more money than they are supposedly saving.
The market may ‘rationalise’ the system, so the Tories say, but it does by removing the humanity of our public services. Whilst government is owned by the rich — and by any stretch of the imagination the governments of the Tories in the past seven years, and New Labour that came before were empirically of the rich — we will all remain enslaved to big business.
On a technological front, this means the inevitability of future global technological exploitation, with human suffering as the result.