Could an ‘unhackable kernel’ keep all computers safe from cyberattack?

AN AUTONOMOUS helicopter gunship is flying over a military base in Arizona. Suddenly, officers on the ground lose radio contact: hackers have taken control of an on-board computer. Could they fly the helicopter?

This has happened – well, almost. New Scientist can reveal that the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) used this scenario in a drill to test the cybersecurity of an uncrewed Boeing Little Bird helicopter.

Despite the hackers being given unfettered access to the computer, and then trying their hardest to disable the helicopter – even crashing the computer – they could not disrupt critical systems. For DARPA, which is aiming to develop an “unhackable” drone by 2018 as part of its High-Assurance Cyber Military Systems (HACMS) programme, the drill was a success.

This isn’t just about the military, though. The software that kept the helicopter’s computer secure was at the heart of its operating system, and it could be just what the world needs to make everything from pacemakers to insulin pumps and power stations to cars immune to hacking.

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