Ransomware is on the rise. On a single day, WannaCrypt held hostage over 57,000 users worldwide, demanding anywhere between $300-$600 in Bitcoin. Don't pay up and you'll not be seeing your data again. Before I get into the thrust of this piece, if anything, let WannaCrypt be a siren call to everyone to backup your data. Period. End of story. With a solid data backup, should you fall prey to ransomware, you are just an OS reinstall and a data restore away from getting back to work.
That being said, if there was ever a time for Linux to shine on the desktop, it's now. I know, I know. Eyes are being rolled and cries of "This again?" are bouncing across the whole of the internet.
Hear me out.
This particular ransomware was nasty; not just in scope, but in design. Consider this:
- WannaCrypt possesses the capability to spread itself
- WannaCrypt exploits a known vulnerability in Windows
- WannaCrypt uses the SMB protocol which is often unfiltered within corporate networks
- The tools behind WannaCrypt (EternalBlue and DoublePulsar) originated within the NSA
- Computers in 150 countries were affected (including machines within FedEx, Renault, Telefonica, as well as hospital computer systems across Europe)
The above knowledge (and more) can be found reported just about anywhere (as well as the story behind the man who stopped new infections). The thing is, WannaCrypt isn't the first of its kind. In fact, ransomware has been exploiting Windows vulnerabilities for a while. The first known ransomware attack was called "AIDS Trojan" that infected Windows machines back in 1989. This particular ransomware attack switched the autoexec.bat file. This new file counted the amount of times a machine had been booted; when the machine reached a count of 90, all of the filenames on the C drive were encrypted.
Windows, of course, isn't the only platform to have been hit by ransomware. In fact, back in 2015, the LinuxEncoder ransomware was discovered. That bit of malicious code, however, only affected servers running the Magento ecommerce solution.
The important question here is this: Have their been any ransomware attacks on the Linux desktop? The answer is no.
With that in mind, it's pretty easy to draw the conclusion that now would be a great time to start deploying Linux on the desktop.
But, but, but!
I can already hear the tired arguments. The primary issue: software. I will counter that argument by saying this: Most software has migrated to either Software as a Service (SaaS) or the cloud. The majority of work people do is via a web browser. Chrome, Firefox, Edge, Safari; with few exceptions, SaaS doesn't care. With that in mind, why would you want your employees and staff using a vulnerable system?
Consider this: If you have an employee that works a crucial position out in the field and you provide their transportation, would you have them driving a vehicle with a known issue? Say, you know the vehicle has a cracked engine block or frame and could, at any minute, suffer catastrophic failure. That failure could (at best) be the cause of the employee losing a day's work and (at worst) endanger that employee's life.
Would you willingly send that employee out in the vehicle? No, you wouldn't.
Apply that same analogy to your staff computers. Why would you willingly expect them to work with a platform that has suffered from vulnerabilities known to lead to such exploits as WannaCrypt; vulnerabilities that (at best) cause said employee to lose a day's work and (at worst) dox said employee or negatively impact your bottom line? The difference here is that you would be (and are) willing to deploy systems that are a malformed URL away from compromise.
Nothing is perfect
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying Linux is perfect. Any system connected to a network can fall victim to something. But the truth of the matter is, by design, Linux is far less susceptible to the likes of WannaCrypt than is Windows. How do I know this? I've been using Linux as my only operating system (on servers and desktops) since 1997 and have only encountered one instance of malicious code (a rootkit on a poorly administered mail server). Those are some pretty good odds there.
Imagine, if you will, you have deployed Linux as a desktop OS for your company and those machines work like champs from the day you set them up to the day the hardware finally fails. Doesn't that sound like a win your company could use? If your employees work primarily with SaaS (through web browsers), then there is zero reason keeping you from making the switch to a more reliable, secure platform.
Don't fear change
I get it; I really do. From top to bottom, people fear change. But this fear has been assuaged with users working primarily within a tool that holds a significant amount of universality. I'm talking about the web browser; a piece of software that anyone can use (with ease) regardless of platform. Every browser (Chrome, Firefox, Edge, Safari, etc.) functions in similar fashion, no matter the underlying operating system. That, in and of itself, has placed platform in the shadows. So unless your company depends upon a proprietary software system that was designed for (and only runs in) Windows, not making the move to Linux desktops is inviting trouble.
Make the switch and avoid the likes of WannaCrypt.
- WannaCry: The smart person's guide (TechRepublic)
- Ransomware: The smart person's guide (TechRepublic)
- Video: How ransomware and file-less cyber-attacks proliferate (TechRepublic)
- 3 crucial issues businesses don't understand about ransomware (TechRepublic)
- How one ransomware campaign was actually a front for a terrorist kill list (TechRepublic)
- How to defend yourself against the WannaCrypt global ransomware attack (ZDNet)
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.