The Fallout from WannaCry

There was a joke going around thirty years ago, a not very good joke but like any two-edged sword it cut either way, that said that Israel was a “one disk” country. The meaning was that everyone copied stuff from their friends and didn’t pay for it.

At that time there was not much worry about computers or security, there were no smartphones (the Blackberry was just emerging), and the Internet was there but not the gargantuan edifice it is today.

But copying at that time was mostly a problem for the music industry, and as computer processors, storage and memory improved, it also became a worry for film producers who feared losing revenue.  But still we were in early days.

Today much of the fraud in the computer business is illegally copied software. Big American companies, and probably big companies in Europe and some in Asia, are careful to use only licensed software because of the fear they might get caught pirating software from commercial vendors. But smaller companies are less inclined to worry about such things and, in some countries, stealing commercial software is quite common, even for major industries including banking.

That is why it is so interesting that Russia and China experienced a large number of ransomware attacks recently, part of the WannaCry exploit. In Russia, there are a large number of users (including probably some in government agencies) who use pirated software. One of the problems of pirated software is that you cannot easily keep the software up to date. That’s because in most cases to do so requires that you go with your registered and authenticated copy to the software manufacturer for updates. If yours is illegal, you don’t do that, or perhaps you try to figure out what the patch or update is, and install it yourself. By and large this left computers in Russia heavily exposed to the ransomware attack, which angered Vladimir Putin who, partly correctly, blamed NSA in the United States for his troubles.

It is not just Russia, of course. There are four reasons why WannaCry became such a threat. These are…continue reading

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