First Line of Defense

By Ka Kay Achacoso

KaKay photoDesigning security into a device requires an understanding of the nature of the attacker.  The cost of security implementation, including  acquiring the technology carrying out the processes, scales up with attacker sophistication.  A rule of thumb is to make the device tampering cost higher than the benefits gained from a security breach.   

Wind River’s VxWorks real-time operating system platforms come with a set of simple security measures that protect the VxWorks applications against some clever hackers.  At the Intel Developers Forum (IDF) in San Francisco next week, we will be demonstrating several layers of protection that come with the operating system (booth No. 400).

In this blog post I will outline a few simple security measures, already available in the VxWorks platform, that deter attacks on the VxWorks system. 

For networked devices, remote access to a device can be protected by implementing a network firewall.  Certain security functions can be limited to be locally accessible only.  Wind River Firewall for VxWorks is already part of the market-specific platforms like Platform for Industrial Devices.   Security processes around firewall configuration access can be implemented.  For example, opening a port in the firewall requires authentication with username and password, or the administrator needs to be physically present to make changes.

Encryption can be applied to all messages passed through the network ports.  For example, Wind River Firewall can block all traffic, but open a window into an SSH shell. 

KaKay image

For additional security against VxWorks experts, it can be ensured that all software modules loaded are from a reliable source and unmodified.  For any modules loaded, including VxWorks kernel images, downloadable kernel modules (DKM), and real-time processes (RTP), attach a digital signature to it and make the loader verify that signature.    At IDF, our demonstration will show an example of our engineering team’s implementation of binary authentication to protect our devices from loading unauthorized software.

For those attackers who try to inject fault into a system in order to bring the whole device down, VxWorks kernel hardening features implements a series of measures to contain the fault to the rogue software and cleanly remove the faulty tasks without affecting the rest of the system.  As an example, these features will detect and report any attempts to write into the text section, preventing an attacker from changing program execution.

It may be possible that some or all of these security measures will sufficiently meet the required security needs.  Beyond these measures, if protection from highly sophisticated, heavily funded and organized attackers is required, there are other products and services from Wind River and our partners that can bolster your security.


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