Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 15th May 2017 16:18 UTC
Windows

Friday saw the largest global ransomware attack in internet history, and the world did not handle it well. We're only beginning to calculate the damage inflicted by the WannaCry program - in both dollars and lives lost from hospital downtime - but at the same time, we're also calculating blame.

There's a long list of parties responsible, including the criminals, the NSA, and the victims themselves - but the most controversial has been Microsoft itself. The attack exploited a Windows networking protocol to spread within networks, and while Microsoft released a patch nearly two months ago, it’s become painfully clear that patch didn’t reach all users. Microsoft was following the best practices for security and still left hundreds of thousands of computers vulnerable, with dire consequences. Was it good enough?

If you're still running Windows XP today and you do not pay for Microsoft's extended support, the blame for this whole thing rests solely on your shoulders - whether that be an individual still running a Windows XP production machine at home, the IT manager of a company cutting costs, or the Conservative British government purposefully underfunding the NHS with the end goal of having it collapse in on itself because they think the American healthcare model is something to aspire to.

You can pay Microsoft for support, upgrade to a secure version of Windows, or switch to a supported Linux distribution. If any one of those mean you have to fix, upgrade, or rewrite your internal software - well, deal with it, that's an investment you have to make that is part of running your business in a responsible, long-term manner. Let this attack be a lesson.

Nobody bats an eye at the idea of taking maintenance costs into account when you plan on buying a car. Tyres, oil, cleaning, scheduled check-ups, malfunctions - they're all accepted yearly expenses we all take into consideration when we visit the car dealer for either a new or a used car.

Computers are no different - they're not perfect magic boxes that never need any maintenance. Like cars, they must be cared for, maintained, upgraded, and fixed. Sometimes, such expenses are low - an oil change, new windscreen wiper rubbers. Sometimes, they are pretty expensive, such as a full tyre change and wheel alignment. And yes, after a number of years, it will be time to replace that car with a different one because the yearly maintenance costs are too high.

Computers are no different.

So no, Microsoft is not to blame for this attack. They patched this security issue two months ago, and had you been running Windows 7 (later versions were not affected) with automatic updates (as you damn well should) you would've been completely safe. Everyone else still on Windows XP without paying for extended support, or even worse, people who turn automatic updates off who was affected by this attack?

I shed no tears for you. It's your own fault.

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fmaxwell
Member since:
2005-11-13

Alfman,

Software engineers don't get to make any of those choices, who says we'd be against it?

As I wrote previously, a significant majority of the software engineers I've discussed this with over the last few decades have been opposed to treating software as a product. Obviously not 100% are against it; I am an example of one who advocates for the software-as-product model.

To be clear, if you held the software engineers accountable without holding management or CEOs accountable you'd end up with a large number of scape goats being blamed without any authority or power to change things at the company.

That's a straw man; I never proposed anything like that, which would be apparent had you included this in what you quoted:

fmaxwell, in the post to which you replied:
"If a latent defect is found in something that hasn't been sold in years, management doesn't want to be in the position of being legally obligated to repair, replace, or refund. More importantly, management does not want the company to be able to be successfully sued when their security bug leads to, say, hospitals turning away patients.
"
I've been involved in projects where code was released with some known vulnerabilities over my objections. If those had been publicly exploited, you would probably blame the software engineers for it, however you would not be privy to the facts of what actually happened, and that it was a managerial decision to consider those things out of scope (another way of saying "unfunded").

Stop presuming to tell me who I would blame -- especially since your presumption runs counter to almost everything I've written here.

I'm for accountability, but you've got to make the whole company accountable and not just those working on the software - many of us aren't in any position to demand changes from our employers.

That's exactly what I've been advocating since the first post in our exchange.

I agree, but I'd go even further and say this low investment and appreciation for security skills is quite discouraging even for those of us who have those skills.

You don't have to tell me. It's beyond a lack of appreciation; it is often outright hostility as we resist implementation of ill-considered features that put security at risk.

Unless the courts rule that software is a product, I don't see this bleak picture changing. Software companies have no incentive to change a model that absolves them of liability and provides them an income stream from upgrades and paid support.

Edited 2017-05-19 00:22 UTC

Reply Parent Score: 2

Alfman Member since:
2011-01-28

fmaxwell,

As I wrote previously, a significant majority of the software engineers I've discussed this with over the last few decades have been opposed to treating software as a product. Obviously not 100% are against it; I am an example of one who advocates for the software-as-product model.



I personally don't think software engineers would really have that big a problem if their employers were held to higher standards like in other industries. It would actually make our case a lot easier when we go to management with a problem that needs to be fixed. Also I think it would be good for us to have more of our skills in demand.


That's a straw man; I never proposed anything like that, which would be apparent had you included this in what you quoted:


I didn't really mean for you to interpret it this way, "you" was meant generically and not personally. I think we're actually in agreement so I'll move on.

That's exactly what I've been advocating since the first post in our exchange.


You don't have to tell me. It's beyond a lack of appreciation; it is often outright hostility as we resist implementation of ill-considered features that put security at risk.


It got derailed because I disagreed with the view that most software engineers side with their company's position on software support (like a warranty, or lack thereof). Apart from that I think we agree on everything else.

Reply Parent Score: 2

fmaxwell Member since:
2005-11-13

It got derailed because I disagreed with the view that most software engineers side with their company's position on software support (like a warranty, or lack thereof). Apart from that I think we agree on everything else.


Thank you.

I can only report on my own experiences discussing this topic over the past 30 or so years with other software engineers, including W2 employees, contract employees (1099 wages), and those with their own consulting firms. I've never seen a proper survey on this topic.

The Internet is filled with websites of one-man software companies. If the notion of software-as-warranted-product were popular among software engineers, I would think that many of these companies, not constrained by management, would offer their software that way. I've not found that to be the case. I've found some offers of refunds if one is dissatisfied shortly after the purchase, but that's about it.

-----

Most of my career was in embedded systems, which has some big advantages for people who share our views. Whether the company builds heart monitors, car stereos, or home alarms, they are selling products. The firmware is an integral part of the product, so if it doesn't work properly and reliably, the product is defective and must be fixed. An ECU in a car that just randomly locks up, leaving the car powerless, can't be explained away as a "known issue" and you can't direct owners to "just turn the key to the off position, wait 30 seconds, and then restart the car."

I found that aerospace took software development, testing, and quality assurance deadly seriously. When you're launching a $100million satellite, it doesn't pay to cut a few hundred hours out of the development budget. One "anomaly" can result in man-weeks of investigation to determine the cause and remedy, because "unverified failures" are something that one never wants on a bird they are trying to launch.

Thanks for the discussion and keep fighting the good fight.

Reply Parent Score: 2