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Australian open source project to expand global reach

Data61’s open source seL4 microkernel project will be supported by a new foundation created under the auspices of the Linux Foundation

The Australian open source seL4 microkernel project is set to expand its global reach after receiving support from the Linux Foundation.

As the world’s first microkernel to be proven secure mathematically, seL4, developed by Data61, the digital specialist arm of Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIRO), is already being used in defence systems and autonomous vehicles.

To fund and drive the future development of the microkernel, Data61 has formed the seL4 Foundation under the auspices of the Linux Foundation, which will provide expertise and services to increase community engagement, contributors and adopters.

“The project is a game changer for safety- or security-critical systems; it forms a dependable base for building a trustworthy software stack,” said June Andronick, leader of trustworthy systems at Data61. “We are taking this step to increase participation from the seL4 community, to aid further adoption and provide a sustainable, long-term trajectory for seL4.”

The original creators of seL4 will continue to steer the direction of the technology. The founding members of the seL4 Foundation include Data61, UNSW Sydney, HENSOLDT Cyber, Ghost Locomotion, Cog Systems and DornerWorks.

Michael Dolan, vice-president of strategic programmes at the Linux Foundation said its “open governance and standards-based model will provide a neutral, mature and trustworthy framework to help advance an operating system that is readily deployable and optimised for security”.

The trustworthiness of embedded computing systems that microkernels like seL4 power is vital to guard against cyber threats aimed at industrial control systems. This is particularly paramount in industries such as avionics, autonomous vehicles, medical devices, critical infrastructure and defence.

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To that, John Launchbury, former director of the information innovation office at the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa), noted that seL4 is “one of a kind” in system security.

“Covid-19 has taught us all the value of ‘distancing’ in keeping any kind of system healthy and secure. That’s what microkernels like seL4 do for software. What makes seL4 unique is that we know with mathematical certainty that the seL4 code implements its ‘distancing’ specification with zero functionality bugs,” said Launchbury.

“That it does so without a performance hit is doubly astonishing,” he said. “I am eagerly anticipating seeing more and more system builders incorporate it to increase their digital security, and I’m confident that the seL4 foundation has been well structured to be effective in curating the ongoing open source development of seL4.”

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