On ‘ransomware’ attacks

Bruce Graham writes: What is ‘ransomware’, and should you pay the ransom if your computer gets infected?” (Thursday)

Will Hogan asks “Is there anything that can be done to protect your computer?” and then states “attacks are random”.  Yes, and not quite. The often neglected answer is “ecology”. Ransomware, and viruses generally, are operating system or software dependent — IOS, windows, linux, android and others. Sometimes they are dependent on a particularly common software, such as Microsoft office macro viruses. Monocultures are more efficient, but less robust.

In IT, this means that while it is simpler to use only one type of system, you are putting all eggs in one basket. Further, the density (in this case, a logical rather than physical concept) of systems influences the capacity for an epidemic to spread. Complex ecosystems (that is sets of computers which are just different) are more expensive to maintain, but less liable to catastrophic failure. For individuals, this can be as simple as using an android phone and an apple laptop. For businesses, this can be as simple as adding a linux server to desktop PCs. A characterizing feature of businesses which are crippled ( rather then just wounded) by a virus is that they have pursued cost efficiency at the expense of robustness. A characterizing feature of individuals is that they have pursued time efficiency at the expense of robustness. Regular backups are the most often cited, but not the only, way to improve robustness. Rapid patching is a type of ‘eggshell  defense’. Hard, until it breaks. It decreases the rate but not the severity of failures.

On Christopher Pyne and Tony Abbott’s sniping

Richard Cobden writes: Re. “Pyne’s apology is no use, it’s time to hit Abbott at his weakest point” (Thursday)

The Coalition’s right-wing cry-babies are that curious combination, only otherwise found in prep school boys, of bully and sook. “Pyne’s telling fibs, sir” they squeal, while they sulk out loud about how unfair people are to them, and snipe and boast and brag about how if everyone doesn’t do what they want they’ll take their toys elsewhere.  There’s only ever been one way to deal with bullies, which is to call their bluff.  Over to you, senior prefect Turnbull.