Kaspersky Confirms Development Of Secure Industrial OS
Eugene Kaspersky wants to stop virtual attacks on real-world infrastructure
Eugene Kaspersky has confirmed the rumour that his company is working on a secure OS for Industrial Control Systems (ICS).
A yet-unnamed project could protect critical infrastructure from targeted malware like Stuxnet, Flame and Gauss, by completely removing the ability of ICS to carry out undeclared activities or run third-party code.
Kaspersky has also warned that the biggest threat to the society comes not from cyber-criminals, but from nation-sponsored creators of cyber-weapons.
ICS are computer systems that monitor and manage industrial processes in the physical world. This means that a software error or hacker attack on ICS could stop factories and leave hospitals without electricity.
Kaspersky’s vision of the future is bleak, and involves “mass cyber-attacks on things like nuclear power stations, energy supply and transportation control facilities, financial and telecommunications systems”. These attacks will need to be dealt with, but unfortunately you can’t simply install security software on ICS.
Kaspersky says that the main difference between industrial systems and the enterprise computer networks is the ability to quarantine infected parts. Servers on a regular network can be isolated to fix the problem, while ICS has to continue running, ‘come hell or high water’. As a result, maintaining operations takes priority over security.
The second challenge is the long time between updates. Again, because these systems have to maintain constant operation, any change in software has to go through countless stages of testing. Kaspersky says that because it involves so much effort, many companies simply ‘don’t bother’ to update ICS at all, leaving it unprotected against new strains of malware.
“Manufacturers of specialised software aren’t interested in constant source code analysis and patching holes. As experience has shown, corners (costs) are normally cut on this kind of activity, and patches are released only if a certain exploit has been found and put on the Internet,” he writes on his blog.
The most dangerous scenarios of ICS failure would come true if due to a malware attack, the operators cannot get real information about the system’s total operation. Things like power grids are spread across huge distances, and not being able to spot a fault hundreds of miles away could have dire consequences.
For example, a vulnerability recently discovered in industrial networking equipment made by a Siemens subsidiary RuggedCom allowed potential attackers to decrypt SSL traffic between the end-user and network devices. The flaw could enable cyberterrorists to obtain necessary credentials to take control of the ICS and make it send false reports.
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“Ideally, all ICS software would need to be rewritten, incorporating all the security technologies available and taking into account the new realities of cyber-attacks. Alas, such a colossal effort coupled with the huge investments that would be required in testing and fine-tuning would still not guarantee sufficiently stable operation of systems,” writes Kaspersky.
Instead, he offers to create a secure, highly specialised OS that would integrate into existing infrastructure. It would serve as a base, with all ICS software installed on top of it. The OS would make sure that operators get reliable data about the system’s performance, which cannot be altered by hackers.
The unique OS would not be able to carry out any undeclared activity by design. The proprietary architecture would lack capacity to execute third-party code or run unauthorised applications. According to Kaspersky, the method for writing such software is both provable and testable.
To develop the operating system, the company will work closely with ICS operators and vendors. Kaspersky hopes the industry will support this development, since the OS is not intended to replace any existing products.
The work on the project is in full swing, and if Kaspersky has his way, the world might become a safer place. However, Taia Global CEO Jeffrey Carr had previously pointed out that the Russian security services are unlikely to miss an opportunity to study the upcoming OS in detail, and might even request the company to include a backdoor in its software.
Last week, Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE have been accused of posing a similar security threat in the US and Canada, by allegedly building backdoors for Chinese hackers into their hardware.
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