By Chip Downing
MILCOM 2011 last week in Baltimore, MD was not only educational, but it was a watershed event. Last year, it was a “coming out” party for custom Android devices; this year however, was the year where many companies are now using COTS hardware and software to their fullest extent, along the entire supply chain, from core to edge and user devices. I believe this COTS adoption is driven by two powerful forces – the exploding capabilities of commercial tablet devices, and global military budget pressures.
The vastly increasing power and capability of commercially available mobile communications devices is simply amazing. Just a few years ago, almost everything in this military communications space was purpose built, and most commercial products were simply inadequate to address the rugged and complex system demands of military communications systems. As seen at MILCOM 2011, this has officially changed — COTS end-to-end communications domains rule.
So if all of these MILCOM vendors are not making customized hardware and software, what are they doing? Wind River had over 500 people visit its booth at MILCOM this year, and most of the discussions I had with both suppliers and end users at the show were about increasing device security and leveraging high volume COTS components in demanding deployment scenarios.
Security is always a challenging problem. There are many ways to secure a device and its data, and we have found that for systems that need single level security (SLS), our customers really warmed up to our Linux Secure product. This product is derived directly from our standard Wind River Linux platform that has full traceability back to source and build files, but which also adds COTS Common Criteria EAL4+ and FIPS 140-2 certification evidence for ARM, Freescale, Intel, and TI OMAP processors. Suppliers can now increase the security of their devices with a COTS Common Criteria path, reducing both time and risk.
The Common Criteria certification work that we have done for Linux can be expanded to secure Android platforms. Developers can leverage the work that Wind River has already performed and completed for kernel.org Linux and simply expand those artifacts to include Android capabilities layered on top of the Linux kernel used in Android.
And speaking of Android, securing Android systems was on everyone’s mind this year. There is certainly a push to create additional and/or layered security on COTS Android devices, which would enable state-of-the-art commercial platforms to be used on the edge of critical military communications systems. One of the best ways to do this is to insert a platform hypervisor underneath Android to abstract away direct access to the hardware. Once this very thin abstraction layer is inserted, one can also then add additional Android or other operating environments to a device, enabling very clever and unique devices that can separate key capabilities into controlled execution spaces. For example, one could mix together a traditional VxWorks-based software defined radio (SDR) environment with an Android or Linux environment using the Wind River Hypervisor.
For customers who need multi-level security (MLS), our VxWorks MILS product fits best. This secure hypervisor product enables the creation of a robust partitioning architecture supporting multiple independent levels of security (MILS). Rockwell Collins showcased its SecureOne Cross Domain Technologies in the Wind River booth at MILCOM 2011, which uses a VxWorks MILS foundation. SecureOne Guard and SecureOne Processor components use VxWorks MILS technology to produce a system for aircraft that can securely connect networks of different classifications, thereby reducing operator workload and reducing the number of systems required to access critical data. This platform consolidation approach drives down size, weight, and power (SWaP) demands, and, therefore, system costs.
Wind River also showcased two more products at our booth that accelerate the delivery of complex software into advanced custom and COTS silicon – Wind River Simics and Wind River Framework for Automated Software Testing (FAST) product.
Wind River Simics is a system simulator capable of simulating systems of arbitrary complexity, from a simple processor and memory, to a system-on-chip (SoC), to a complete board, to a networked system, and even a complete system-of-systems. Simics enables software developers to immediately and reliably access military communication hardware designs with ease, without the burden of scheduling the availability of actual hardware and associated support equipment.
Finally, our (FAST) product is a meta-test framework that automates software and system tests and their results for mobile Linux and Android devices. Each individual test framework, test, or application is encapsulated within a "wrapper" script that is executed by FAST during the test run. This wrapper allows the test to be abstracted across multiple product platforms. FAST includes the full Android Compliance Test Suites (CTS), and accepts existing legacy tests, open source tests, and Wind River–authored tests to accelerate your product testing and delivery.
It will be interesting to attend next year’s MILCOM in Orlando to see what new communication devices will emerge from this powerful combination of COTS hardware/software platforms, layered security, and advanced tooling that accelerate these systems into the global battle space.
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