After the Bangladesh Bank hacking, the media was full of questions as to how IT security could be ensured.
Initially, the hacking was reported as the result of a “zero-day” exploit, which means it was possibly enabled by using pirated versions of Microsoft Windows on Bangladesh Bank computers, as pirated versions of MS software can’t receive security updates and are vulnerable to hacking.
In general, computers which have the latest security updates for the operating system have much better protection from zero-day exploits.
Other governments have actively been looking for ways to improve their IT security for years. China’s approach should be mentioned here: Since 2013, the Chinese Ministry of Information Technology has co-operated with Canonical Software in the UK, which produces the popular Ubuntu Linux free/open-source operating system (www.ubuntu.com).
The result of this partnership has been Ubuntu Kylin, which is a version of Linux with all the Chinese fonts, etc required for use by the Chinese government. Ubuntu Kylin gives all Chinese government agencies the opportunity to use an operating system which is free of MS licence fee costs, which run to hundreds of dollars for each copy of Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office.
Free/open source software such as LibreOffice (www.libreoffice.org) replaces Microsoft alternatives such as Office. Of course, any Chinese computer user can also choose to use Ubuntu Kylin by downloading it, since it’s free.
The development and adoption of a free/open source national operating system has the potential to save a country billions of dollars in software purchase costs.
Using Linux also provides greater software security compared to pirated Microsoft products, as security updates are available regularly for Ubuntu Linux (but not for pirated MS products).
It’s worth noting that a UK government review in 2014 found Ubuntu Linux to be by default the most secure of 10 different operating systems which it evaluated (http://www.zdnet.com/article/uks-security-branch-says-ubuntu-most-secure...).
Given all the benefits described above, Bangladesh should also produce its own national version of the Linux operating system. Doing so only requires simple customisation of the existing Ubuntu Linux operating system, which can be accomplished by a small team of developers.
Kazi Farms Group, which already runs almost entirely on Linux on over 1,000 desktops, is in the process of setting up an open source operating system research fellowship at Central Women’s University (which also runs exclusively on Linux).
For the average government or corporate computer user who only needs to browse the web and type office e-mails, documents, spreadsheets, and presentations, Ubuntu is ready to be used with only trivial modifications such as installing Bangla fonts and keyboards.
Fortunately, open source Bangla fonts have already been developed by www.ekushey.org and others, and open source Bangla typing technology has also already been developed (https://github.com/mugli/Avro-Keyboard).
If the Bangladesh government was to take a stance in favour of using Linux on all government PCs, an “official” Bangladeshi version of Ubuntu Linux could be developed in days and standardised in a matter of weeks (since all of the hard work has already been done by the Ubuntu Linux open source community and is available for free).
The best way to facilitate this development would be for the Ministry of Education to require that all computers in all computer science departments across Bangladeshi educational institutions be migrated to Linux before the end of 2016.
Those computer science departments have plenty of talented professors and students who can help answer any initial difficulties in learning and implementing Linux on their computers.
Within 2016, all government IT staff should get Linux networking and system administration training. Once that is done, within 2017 the goal should be to migrate all government computers to Linux.
This would entail just a few hours of re-training the average user to use LibreOffice rather than MS Office. Once universities and the government build awareness of Linux and open source alternatives, the private sector is likely to abandon Microsoft software simply to avoid licensing costs and piracy-related lawsuits.
It will, in fact, be quite easy for Bangladesh to improve its IT infrastructure at almost no cost and join the free/open source software revolution which has already overtaken most of the world. It’s time for Bangladesh to get involved in creating its own digital future.