New Attack Surfaces to Defend

Dell, Lenovo, Asus, LG, and Hewlett Packard have all recently been shipping PCs that include a traditional Microsoft Windows operating system (OS) and a second OS.  Many models use DeviceVM’s “SplashTop.”

This move is an attempt to provide users with an option to boot more rapidly into an environment that includes only a subset of the applications and features of their primary OS.  Boot time for this “smaller” OS is supposed to be 30 seconds or less.

At the same time, embedded developer Lineo is challenging this field by demonstrating a “quick-start” Linux OS, called “Warp,” capable of booting in under 3 seconds on a 400MHz ARM11 CPU.  This feat includes running Xorg, twm, xlogo, plus three xterms.

This may aid worker productivity.  Its value will only increase as worker mobility increases and as more and more business is performed and delivered via web applications.  If most of their work can be performed via a browser, these fast-boot OSs may become worker’s platform of choice.

Security professionals, prepare for dealing with this new attack surface now.  This will require resources, budget, and time.  Don’t wait until your Purchasing department or a senior officer buys a few dozen or a few tens of thousands of these new PCs at your company.

All these alternative, quick-boot OSs run software, accept and emit inputs, and store some amount of data.  As a result, they will fall prey of all manner of attack.  It will take some effort to learn how to harden, manage, patch, monitor, and report on the status of these new OSs.

— References —

SplashTop on a number of PC vendor’s new platforms:

Lineo press release for Warp:


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