The timing couldn’t be better for Chinese President Xi Jinping, who stepped on stage to outline his vision for a Chinese century, the world becomes hostage to malicious software. This weekend’s ransomware hit hundreds of thousands of computers in more than 150 countries.
Developed by the security agency of China’s biggest rival and exploiting a ubiquitous product developed by that country’s, the attacks offer Xi the perfect opportunity to make the case for an alternative to Microsoft Corp. and its Windows operating system.
That the techniques used in the attacks were stolen from the National Security Agency also makes this the perfect chance to argue that global technology can’t be trusted in the hands of a single nation.
But the reality is that there’s no alternative to the US or to Microsoft, yet. Both Apple Inc. and the open-source Linux operating system offer solid non-Microsoft options, which have gained immense number of loyal customers & reliability attached to the product.
However, China's product (software developed as an alternative) two decades after their introduction, neither has gained the traction needed to knock out Windows off its perch. China already tried, and failed, to build its own operating system. Ultimately, it lacked the technical chips to pull it off—due to the dearth of software engineers—while its fast-expanding industries had no real reason to install an inferior product in favour of one that was already sufficient for the task.
While nobody knows what is the solution for the 'WannaCry'Problem, there’s nothing to suggest that a Chinese OS would be any better or any more secure. But since Edward Snowden made revelations about the breadth and depth of US spying, the world has been looking at the global superpower with increasing suspicion. That’s helped dilute China’s reputation as an evil empire that spies on its citizens and suppresses information & freedom of the press. If not “innocent,” China now looks “just as bad.”
Xi spoke of a “world fraught with challenges” and offered his own multilateral plan as an antidote. He probably wasn’t talking about cyber security, but it plays to his “alternative to America” theme that hospitals, police stations and payments processors worldwide were affected. Helping his case was a strongly worded statement from Microsoft President Brad Smith, who called the attack a wake-up call, and likened the development of cyber tools by agencies to stockpiling physical weapons.
Things have changed since China last attempted to build an OS. Its military and security agencies now employ thousands of people for the purpose of finding, penetrating and exploiting foreign computer systems, and their efficacy is testimony to the nation’s advancement in software engineering. Meanwhile, its multilateral trade and assistance policies help build infrastructure in developing countries that paint China as a friendly, helpful ally.
Xi has all that is need to rally the world and his countrymen, behind an alternative to the current technology hegemony—he is trying to come up with a new operating system—whether other nations like it or not.