Saturday 3 October 2015

Unhackable Kernel could Keep All Computers Safe from Cyberattack


Unhackable Operating Systems – Kernel

An autonomous helicopter gunship which seems to be flying over a military base in Arizona suddenly tends to lose radio contact. This is due to hackers taking control of an on-board computer. New Scientist can reveal that US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency – DARPA utilised a similar scenario in a drill to test the cybersecurity of an unscrewed Boeing Little Bird helicopter.

Inspite of the hackers having unbound access to the computer, and making great attempts to disable the helicopter, crashing the computer, they were unable to disrupt the critical system. DARPA which is focusing in developing an unhackable drone by 2018 as a part of its High Assurance Cyber Military System – HACMS programme, the drill seemed to be successful.

It is said that the software which had kept the helicopter’s computer secure was at the core of its operating system and could be the most appropriate thing what could make everything from pacemakers, insulin pumps, power stations, cars immune to hacking.

Gernot Heiser from the newly formed Australian national research agency, Data61 had commented that his hope was that in 10 years, anything which could be security critical would be running on the system or some other one built on the principles established. One of the predecessors had developed the crucial component of the unhackable operating systems – its kernel.

Central Staple of the Operating System of the Computer

The kernel is said to be the central staple of the operating system of the computer. If the hackers tend to gain access to it, for instance, they could perform actions which could be meant to be prohibited such as turning a mobile phone into a signal jammer. Heiser’s team last year had proved mathematically that their kernel is unhackable.

The kernel, known as seL4, has some highly secured properties and can do only do what it is developed to do. Its code cannot be altered without permission and its memory together with the data transfers cannot be read without permission. Earlier version of it was known as OKL4 which is now on millions of smartphones. Heiser has informed that the two features support seL4’s security and one of it is a new way of isolating data within the kernel.

 However, the main development was making the code proficient of being checked mathematically. The other kernels may tend to have these properties though it would be impossible to know precisely without mathematical proof according to Heiser.

seL4 – Keep the Systems Separate

Two of the hackers in the month of July had played a prank by accessing remotely the computer of a Chrysler Jeep, making it stop abruptly on a highway and then crash it into a ditch. The consequences were that the company recalled 1.4 million vehicles.

The question that arises is – could seL4 prevent such an incident in the future?Heiser informs that one cannot stop hackers from gaining access to things like a car’s entertainment system, if it communicates through Wi-Fi. Hackers often tend to use non critical systems as a springboard to critical areas such as steering as in the case of the Jeep prank.

However, the seL4 kernel could keep the systems separate. According to Heiser,there are attempts occurring to roll this out to cars in order to protect them. It seems a big deal for cybersecurity according to Iman Shames from the University of Melbourne in Australia who states that there are ways to attack hardware even if the software is secure. Hackers could be capable of tricking the sensors of a device or jam incoming communication or any other signal which could be quite overwhelming.

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