Digital security has been at the centre of many a discussion after a number of pre-elections hacks, including the US and French elections. If there were any doubts about whether the world has done enough to protect the vast troves of data existing in digital servers, a resounding answer was provided recently when a ransomware virus hit around 200,000 computers in at least 150 countries. The target was a loophole in the Windows operating systems that allowed the WannaCry ransomware to affect and disrupt major services. Simple medical tasks such as performing X-rays became impossible due to the sheer scale of the attack. If a user wanted to recover access to their computer, they were required to pay a set amount to the hackers in Bitcoin, a digital currency that is gaining popularity due to the fact that it is tougher to track its movements. While it is positive news that very few of those hacked are paying up, the loss of access to important databases have crippled healthcare and financial systems in many countries. No solution for the hacked computers has been found yet, but users have been told not to pay the hackers so that this doesn’t end up becoming a lucrative business.
While the failure of the global cybersecurity industry has been revealed, there are much more serious questions that must be asked about the source of the ransomware. Most experts believe that the ransomware was stolen from the US’ National Security Agency (NSA). The NSA has most famously been in the news due to the Wikileaks releasing information about its wide ranging and illegal surveillance network. Now, it seems that the weapons it has developed on its own could end up hurting millions around the world. Caught between the need to protect their own country’s digital data and stealing data from other countries and any individuals thought to be suspicious, national cybersecurity agencies have developed tools that can compromise the digital security of almost anyone. The tension between creating hack-proof digital storage and the security imperative of hacking into all forms of digital storage and conversation is at the centre of the debate on the future of the digital world. The digitisation of data has created a new minefield of war. Attacks by non-state actors like the one seen with this ransomware would be less likely if governments were themselves not looking for weaknesses in digital software. The hacking group behind the attack has cryptically promised more such attacks on a monthly basis – using tools taken from the NSA. The stakes of the conflict between corporations such as Microsoft, and governments are becoming higher. Questions are being asked about why any weaknesses found within these operating systems were not shared with the companies that develop them. This is a world where the conversation about upgrading cybersecurity cannot be had without questioning the overall global approach to the digital world.