Last Friday, massive sections of the Internet were brought to a halt by malware introduced by hackers into DVRs and other Internet-connected devices. The Internet of Things (IoT) promises to connect more and more devices, introducing many more vulnerability points throughout the world. What happens when nearly every devices is connected? Can we stop even more damage from being done? At Zeidman Technologies, we believe that SynthOS is part of the answer.
On October 21, a Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDOS) attack caused outages and network congestion for a large number of major websites including Twitter, GitHub, PayPal, Amazon, Reddit, Netflix, and Spotify. According to reports, the attack was accomplished by guessing at the default passwords for Internet-connected DVRs and cameras. At least one company, Chinese electronics component manufacturer Hangzhou Xiongmai Technology, admitted that security vulnerabilities involving weak default passwords in its products were partly to blame. Internet backbone provider Level 3 Communications said that at least 500,000 devices were infected with the Mirai malware. The Mirai malware was able to load itself into these IoT machines and then start deluging websites with messages, overloading them and bringing them down.
As bad as this was, what will happen when the IoT dream of billions of devices from thermostats to light bulbs to toasters and refrigerators are all online? A Mirai-type malware could shut down the entire Internet making repair virtually impossible.
One of the problems that led to this situation is that IoT devices are being based on operating systems like Linux that are intended for desktop computers or other systems where the user can install and uninstall programs. So adding a malware program only requires that the malware “act legitimate.”
Another problem is that most of these operating systems have source code that’s easily available. Hackers can download the code, search for vulnerabilities, and test them extensively before ever unleashing their malware.
We believe that OS synthesis is the future for IoT devices because it creates a much more secure system and here is why.
- Hackers can’t examine source code. SynthOS creates a custom application specific operating system (ASOS) for each device. This means that while the developer has full access to the source code that is created, that source code is unique to the system and cannot be downloaded anywhere. Hackers can’t easily find, test, and exploit vulnerabilities.
- Every synthesized system is custom. SynthOS creates a custom operating system for each device. This means that a vulnerability in one device will not be in another device. So an attack against multiple devices would require malware to understand each device it is attacking.
- Reduced attack surface. The SynthOS-generated OS code is so compact and optimized, it is difficult if at all possible to add malware. For example, if a device has 5 applications running on it, the OS will support exactly 5 applications. Adding a 6th application will not be supported and will likely cause the system to crash.
- Difficult to add apps to the closed system. SynthOS creates a closed system where new applications cannot be added dynamically. This means that to add a new function, the entire system must be wiped and reloaded, something that malware cannot typically do.
- Automatic synthesis of memory checking routines. We are now adding a feature that allows memory checking routines to be synthesized automatically and run periodically. If the routine determines that memory has been changed, it can send out a warning or shut itself down.
OS synthesis and SynthOS is not a cure-all for all IoT security. There will always be the human factor where coding mistakes are made and passwords are emailed on unsecure servers, but OS synthesis in general and SynthOS in particular will go a long way toward protecting against future attacks like the one we just experienced.
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