Hardened, secure operating systems for sensitive computing environments are nothing new. Trustix, SELinux, Sidewinder SecureOS, and Green Hills Integrity are among many secure OSes, some that have survived for niche environments and others that have faded into obscurity.

Green Hills Software in 2008 announced with much fanfare that its new Integrity-178B OS was certified as EAL6+ and was being sold commercially: EAL6+ is the highest security rating by the National Security Agency's certification program, and denotes that the OS was designed and certified to defend against well-funded and sophisticated attackers.

And now the concept of secure OS is back in the limelight, with Kaspersky Lab founder and CEO Eugene Kaspersky yesterday confirming reports that his security company is working on creating a secure operating system specifically for SCADA and industrial-control system environments. In a post on his own blog yesterday, he said the ideal way to secure these critical systems would entail rewriting all ICS software and incorporating the latest and greatest security technology. But that would be a massive, costly, and unlikely undertaking that still wouldn't necessarily lock down these systems. Hence the secure OS, he said.

"But there is fully realizable alternative: a secure operating system, one onto which ICS can be installed, and which could be built into the existing infrastructure -- controlling 'healthy' existing systems and guaranteeing the receipt of reliable data reports on the systems' operation," he wrote.

The OS would be a purpose-built platform aimed at "solving a specific narrow task, and not intended for playing Half-Life on, editing your vacation videos, or blathering on social media," Kaspersky said. His company also is working on preventing third-party code execution or hacking of the OS. "This is the important bit: the impossibility of executing third-party code, or of breaking into the system or running unauthorized applications on our OS; and this is both provable and testable," he said.

Neither Kaspersky nor other company officials would reveal technical details, but a company blog post said that the OS would be written from the ground up and not based on existing code. Its kernel will be bare-bones when it comes to code, and clear of bugs: "...the core must be 100% verified as not permitting vulnerabilities or dual-purpose code. For the same reason, the kernel needs to contain a very bare minimum of code, and that means that the maximum possible quantity of code, including drivers, needs to be controlled by the core and be executed with low-level access rights," according to a company blog post.

Most security experts say they commend the concept of a secure OS, for SCADA/ICS and other sensitive environments. SCADA software is notoriously vulnerability-ridden and dated, since much of it was built at a time when plants had no Internet exposure.

But the concept of a new secure OS is fraught with challenges when it comes to real-world implementation. "I like the idea that you have a firmware model where it's custom-built just for those [SCADA] devices," says Ken Silva, senior vice president for cyberstrategy at information technology contractor ManTech International. "The reality is that there are number of challenges associated with it: where do you find developers for a purpose-built OS? Where do you find applications or monitoring solutions? There are all sorts of things that come with supporting an OS."

The advantage of a secure OS is that it runs fewer applications and tasks, so its attack surface is smaller than a conventional OS. "It's definitely more secure, but it's absolutely not foolproof," Silva says.

HD Moore, CSO of Rapid7 and chief architect of the Metasploit Project, says he wonders if Kaspersky Lab may be building more of a custom security platform that hardens Windows rather than an all-new OS. "My gut feel is they don't mean OS, they mean a super-AV that does endpoint protection and HIPS stuff and bundle that into a Windows 2008/2012 build and implement policies on top to limit the damage a bad application can do," Moore says. "That's my guess."

Even so, such a platform would still face some of the same challenges that a purely new OS would, he says.

SCADA vendor Siemens, meanwhile, says creating a secure OS for the SCADA world would require the open source community to shore up their OSes as well. "SCADA systems are highly tailored, developed for solving a specific narrow task. Siemens is working on methods of writing software which, by design, won't be able to carry out any behind-the-scenes, undeclared activity," says Alan Cone, HMI product marketing manager at Siemens Industry Inc. "This is the important bit: the impossibility of executing third-party code, or of breaking into the system or running unauthorized applications on an operating system."

Cone says there's no silver bullet for fixing ICS security issues: it requires a defense-in-depth strategy. Some of the security layers Siemens provides today include user administration, secure communication, security devices, MAC filtering and blocking on switches, and IP block protection within the PLC code, he says.

Next Page: Secure OS 'worth a try'

The Secure Operating System Equation

Hardened, secure handling systems for supportive computing environments are zero new. Trustix, SELinux, Sidewinder SecureOS, and Green Hills Integrity are among many secure OSes, some that have survived for niche environments and others that have faded into obscurity.

Green Hills Software in 2008 announced with most pushing that a new Integrity-178B OS was approved as EAL6+ and was being sole commercially: EAL6+ is a tip confidence rating by a National Security Agency’s acceptance program, and denotes that a OS was designed and approved to urge opposite well-funded and worldly attackers.

And now a judgment of secure OS is behind in a limelight, with Kaspersky Lab owner and CEO Eugene Kaspersky yesterday confirming reports that his confidence association is operative on formulating a secure handling complement privately for SCADA and industrial-control complement environments. In a post on his possess blog yesterday, he pronounced a ideal approach to secure these vicious systems would entail rewriting all ICS program and incorporating a latest and biggest confidence technology. But that would be a massive, costly, and doubtful endeavour that still wouldn’t indispensably close down these systems. Hence a secure OS, he said.

“But there is entirely realizable alternative: a secure handling system, one onto that ICS can be installed, and that could be built into a existent infrastructure — determining ‘healthy’ existent systems and guaranteeing a receipt of arguable information reports on a systems’ operation,” he wrote.

The OS would be a purpose-built height directed during “solving a specific slight task, and not dictated for personification Half-Life on, modifying your vacation videos, or blathering on amicable media,” Kaspersky said. His association also is operative on preventing third-party formula execution or hacking of a OS. “This is a critical bit: a stupidity of executing third-party code, or of violation into a complement or using unapproved applications on a OS; and this is both provable and testable,” he said.

Neither Kaspersky nor other association officials would exhibit technical details, though a association blog post pronounced that a OS would be created from a belligerent adult and not formed on existent code. Its heart will be bare-bones when it comes to code, and transparent of bugs: “…the core contingency be 100% accurate as not needing vulnerabilities or dual-purpose code. For a same reason, a heart needs to enclose a really unclothed smallest of code, and that means that a extent probable apportion of code, including drivers, needs to be tranquil by a core and be executed with low-level entrance rights,” according to a company blog post.

Most confidence experts contend they praise a judgment of a secure OS, for SCADA/ICS and other supportive environments. SCADA program is notoriously vulnerability-ridden and dated, given most of it was built during a time when plants had no Internet exposure.

But a judgment of a new secure OS is diligent with hurdles when it comes to real-world implementation. “I like a thought that we have a firmware indication where it’s custom-built only for those [SCADA] devices,” says Ken Silva, comparison clamp boss for cyberstrategy during information record executive ManTech International. “The existence is that there are series of hurdles compared with it: where do we find developers for a purpose-built OS? Where do we find applications or monitoring solutions? There are all sorts of things that come with ancillary an OS.”

The advantage of a secure OS is that it runs fewer applications and tasks, so a conflict aspect is smaller than a required OS. “It’s really some-more secure, though it’s positively not foolproof,” Silva says.

HD Moore, CSO of Rapid7 and arch designer of a Metasploit Project, says he wonders if Kaspersky Lab might be building some-more of a tradition confidence height that hardens Windows rather than an all-new OS. “My tummy feel is they don’t meant OS, they meant a super-AV that does endpoint insurance and HIPS things and gold that into a Windows 2008/2012 build and exercise policies on tip to extent a repairs a bad focus can do,” Moore says. “That’s my guess.”

Even so, such a height would still face some of a same hurdles that a quite new OS would, he says.

SCADA businessman Siemens, meanwhile, says formulating a secure OS for a SCADA universe would need a open source village to seaside adult their OSes as well. “SCADA systems are rarely tailored, grown for elucidate a specific slight task. Siemens is operative on methods of essay program which, by design, won’t be means to lift out any behind-the-scenes, undeclared activity,” says Alan Cone, HMI product selling manager during Siemens Industry Inc. “This is a critical bit: a stupidity of executing third-party code, or of violation into a complement or using unapproved applications on an handling system.”

Cone says there’s no china bullet for regulating ICS confidence issues: it requires a defense-in-depth strategy. Some of a confidence layers Siemens provides currently embody user administration, secure communication, confidence devices, MAC filtering and restraint on switches, and IP retard insurance within a PLC code, he says.

Next Page: Secure OS ‘worth a try’