In mid February there were news reports that Canadian government computers at the Finance Department, Treasury Board, Defence Research and Development Canada had been hacked and information mined by persons unknown, most probably operating out of China.
The federal government said little about this but confirmed that as soon as the activity, which began in January, was discovered the affected departments were immediately shut off from the Internet and a long, difficult process was begun to see if any other departments had been affected.
It didn’t surprise me. Our federal government is a massive, sprawling, lumbering beast. Its computer network(s) are undoubtedly an incredible mish-mash of various systems, machines and software of varying age and vulnerability. Depending on how you count, Canada has somewhere between 263,000 and 454,000 public servants (2008 figures) – the low number is the core "civil service" traditionally referred to as such; the high number is all people employed by the federal government, including RCMP members, Armed Forces personnel and employees of federal Crown Corporations. Either way, it’s a lot of people, most of who will have a work computer with Internet access.
The security breach story had a short shelf life. But for the brief time it was alive, at least one expert suggested the government needs to do a thorough security overhaul of its computer systems that could end up costing more than $1 billion. I believe it. But here’s an idea for Ottawa’s serious consideration:
Get rid of Windows and go to the Linux operating system across the board.
This would save the federal government millions of dollars annually, more than paying back the cost of the switch (and it would include security fixes while achieving much more).
We’d save because Linux is free. Today our government (let’s say it has 500,000 computers) every year pays a licence fee for every terminal to Microsoft just for Windows. A further fee is paid for every copy of Microsoft Office. Other licensing fees will be paid to other software makers. The fees vary and Microsoft negotiates bulk user deals, but however you calculate it, the amount is large.
One state school system in the U.S. pays $47 per computer for about 90,000 machines, or $4.2 million. At that rate, half a million computers would mean Canada is spending $23.5 million annually just on one of the licence fees.
Windows is notorious for security flaws and weaknesses, which require constant updating and hours of IT work. And as the most common system out there, it is plagued by viruses and hacking attempts. A computer virus that works with the Linux operating system, I’ve been told by computer people who should know, has not yet been discovered. And the system is highly stable, unlike Windows.
But best of all, Linux is open source software (the programming code is available to anybody and free for programmers to use and adapt). Government programmers can write their own programs or additions to programs for whatever they need, without restriction. They can get exactly the kind and level of security they want and the specifications will be unique, making the job of hackers much harder since every such system is different. What might work in one for a hacker won’t in another.
Public servants reading this might be dubious or grumbling that the last thing they need is to learn a new computer system. My response: get on the net and try a version of Linux at home! It’s easy and impressive. A day of formal training would do for most public service employees, just to be sure it is done logically and covers the bases they need to know.
Typically the Linux systems (one called Ubuntu is popular) include an "office suite" as good or better than Microsoft Office and produces files compatible with both it and Apple software. Same thing for other software including an equivalent of Photoshop . . . all free. Combine that with the ability of government to tailor make its own computer systems with its own programs nobody else has, and we’d end up with a more secure and more productive system while saving millions annually.
A logical 10-year conversion process is achievable. It has been done elsewhere for the same reasons. That includes parts of the U.S. Department of Defence, The City of Munich, Germany, the government of Spain (in process), France’s Parliament, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, Germany’s Foreign Ministry, France’s national police force; the U.S. National Nuclear Safety Administration, the South African Social Security Agency, the government of Turkey, the Phillipines voting system, 703 of Malaysia’s 724 government agencies, and the Russian government (in process). A lot of schools around the world switched (often to save money) and in the business world, it’s a solid, growing trend, one report saying 40 per cent in the U.S. now use Linux. Business converts include McDonald’s, Amazon, the New York Stock Exchange, Google, Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Wikipedia, Dreamworks Animation, Virgin America (airline), Ernie Ball (guitar string maker), and reportedly a new Internet flight planning system at NavCanada is to begin using it this year. The Large Hadron Collider in Geneva run by scientists runs on Linux, as does the largest supercomputer in Canada, at the University of Toronto.
It makes sense for the federal government to very seriously consider the switch. It is user friendly, highly flexible, customizable, more secure, more stable and saves millions. It may require hiring more high level programmers, but they’ll pay for themselves and it would also mean fewer other techies running around resolving problems with proprietary software. The advantages are convincing.
Source: Linuxonline Canada