Jim Douglas, the CEO of Wind River is a big believer in Linux. This may seem like an odd stance coming from the head of a company built for the embedded world where real-time operating systems (RTOS) reign, but for the last decade or more Wind River has been expanding its portfolio of products to include Linux operating systems. In 2012, it built its own Linux based OS on the Yocto Linux kernel. Wind River wants to bring the world of IT to the old-school industrial world.
As the internet of things has expanded, Wind River has tried to keep up, producing software for the gateways inside cars, factories and power substations that handle the input from hundreds of individual sensors. Now, as those sensors get connected, Douglas has acquired Washington D.C.-based Star Lab Software to ensure that the sensors, the gateway devices, and the cloud all can be built in Linux and locked down the way one can lock down a device running an RTOS.
RTOSes usually are very limited and designed for a specific purpose. They run on constrained hardware with limited memory and computing power. Generally, they are more secure because they are limited in performance, which makes them uninteresting for attackers, and also because they are designed only to do a few things. But devices running RTOSes are getting connected to the internet, which makes them potentially vulnerable.
They are also increasingly part of a larger system of devices. And in those systems, we’re seeing the greater use of Linux operating systems to run the software that analyzes data coming from the constrained sensors. In some cases, we’re even seeing sensors that are designed to take in multiple sources of information that run Linux. This is what Douglas means when he espouses the growth of Linux, even in embedded systems.
Star Lab, which is 6 years old, was spun out of Raytheon Corp. where it built software to secure embedded systems for aerospace and defense. The company has a suite of software and developer tools that let programmers build Linux-based software that can be locked down to only perform a few tasks or communicate with specific devices. Even if the device is rooted, the Star Lab software protects the system from being changed, says Irby Thompson, the founder and CEO of Star Lab.
“If you think about it, poor security is the invalidation of an assumption,” says Thompson. “We help customers and developers understand what their assumptions are.”