Kaspersky Lab announces a brand-new OS focused on security

Now being written from scratch, this new software will be used in place of Windows to protect industrial control systems.

The past two years or so have brought a new breed of scary malware to the forefront of public attention, including the infamous Stuxnet worm that was discovered back in 2010.

Following hard on Stuxnet's proverbial heels, of course, were Duqu, Flame, Gauss, Shamoon, and Wiper, to name just a few examples.

These new threats are generally thought to be state-sponsored in many cases and developed for cyberespionage against specific targets; another factor in common is that they tend to work through Microsoft Windows.

It's long been known that Linux offers numerous security advantages over both Windows and Macs, of course, but security research firm Kaspersky Lab--which played a key role in identifying many of these frightening pieces of malware--apparently has other ideas.

Specifically, the company announced on Tuesday that it's developing--from scratch--a brand-new, security-focused operating system of its own.

'Relegated to second place'

"We're developing a secure operating system for protecting key information systems (industrial control systems (ICS)) used in industry/infrastructure," wrote Eugene Kaspersky, chairman and CEO of Kaspersky Lab, in a blog post on Tuesday.

Whereas typical corporate settings tend to place a high priority on security and the confidentiality of data, Kaspersky explained, industrial settings such as nuclear power stations and transportation control facilities tend to have a different focus.

Namely, "the highest priority for them is maintaining constant operation come hell or high water," he wrote. "Uninterrupted continuity of production is of paramount importance at any industrial object in the world; security is relegated to second place."

Software updates also tend to be skipped in such settings for similar reasons, Kaspersky added.

Written from scratch

In an ideal world, all ICS software would be rewritten to reflect today's new breed of malware and to incorporate all the latest security technologies available, Kaspersky pointed out. Of course, even with the vast cost and effort required, such a solution "would still not guarantee sufficiently stable operation of systems," he added.

Accordingly, Kaspersky's goal is to build a secure operating system 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."

Kaspersky's new OS will be narrowly focused, he noted, as well as unable to execute any third-party code. It will not be based on any existing code, but rather will be written entirely from scratch.

Few other specifics were offered in his description, and Kaspersky noted that security through obscurity--keeping at least some of the details secret--is part of the company's long-term plan.

An ambitious plan

It is, of course, difficult to assess such a plan before anything is revealed and on the basis of so few specifics.

Still, given the growing number of corporations and governments embracing Linux for its superior security--the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Navy, and the U.S. Air Force being just a few recent examples--it's a little difficult to imagine that a single organization, with a necessarily limited set of resources, could surpass the efforts of the global community of Linux developers who have created the hugely successful open source operating system.

In any case, even for those of us who don't work with industrial control systems, it seems to me the message here is pretty clear: If you need full security, you need something other than Windows.

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