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Data61 launches foundation to advance critical systems security

Data61, the digital specialist department of Australia’s national science agency CSIRO, has established a new not for profit organisation known as seL4 Foundation.

The foundation will be focused on the development of seL4 microkernel and related technologies.

Originating in Australia, seL4 is an operating system (OS) kernel that is secure and is said to be the fastest and most advanced OS microkernel.

The kernel is the piece of software that runs at the core of a computer system and ensures security, safety and reliability.

seL4 can be used in various deployments such as defence systems or autonomous air and ground vehicles, safeguarding them from cyber threats, Data61 states.

Data61 leader of trustworthy systems Dr June Andronick says, “seL4 is a game changer for safety- or security-critical systems; it forms a dependable base for building a trustworthy software stack.”

According to a statement, the seL4 Foundation will be focused on offering a global, independent and neutral organisation for funding and developing seL4 technology.

It will offer a forum for developers and researchers to collaborate on developing the seL4 ecosystem, to maximise the benefits of the technology for critical systems across industry sectors.

Andronick says, “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. We are impressed with the strong support for this move from developers and adopters around the world.”

UNSW Sydney and Data61 Scientia Professor Gernot Heiser says, "This is about taking the seL4 ecosystem to the next level. While broadening the community of contributors and adopters, CSIRO Australia's National Science Agency at Trustworthy Systems we will continue to drive the kernel's evolution and the research that ensures it will remain the world's most advanced OS technology."

Founding members of the seL4 Foundation, set up under the umbrella of the Linux Foundation, are CSIRO's Data61, UNSW Sydney, HENSOLDT Cyber GmbH, Ghost Locomotion, Cog Systems, and DornerWorks.

Furthermore, Data61 states the original developers of seL4 will remain involved in the development and direction of the technology.

On the initial governing board is Gernot Heiser as chair and June Andronick, as well as Gerwin Klein, chief principal research scientist at Data61 and leader of the original seL4 verification and verification research in the Trustworthy Systems group.

Also on the Board is Dr John Launchbury, who was the program manager of the DARPA funded HACMS program that put seL4 on real-world unmanned helicopters to demonstrate how the technology can protect against cyber attacks in a real world context. 

Following this he became director of DARPA's Information Innovation Office, before rejoining Galois.

The above are joined by representatives of two major adopters of seL4. The first is Sascha Kegrei, chief technology officer of HENSOLDTCyber, a Munich-based company which develops embedded IT products that meet high security requirements, combining an operating system based on verified seL4 with a RISC-V processor that is protected from supply-chain attacks.

The second is Dr Daniel Potts, engineering director of Ghost Locomotion, a California based company which is converting cars to drive themselves, using seL4 to keep them safe.

According to Data61, the directors share the same goal of seeing seL4 secure the critical systems of the future.

Data61 acting director Simon Barry says, "Cyber security is a core focus for Data61, and its fantastic to see our work further expanding its global relevance and reach.

"We are proud to lead the creation of the seL4 Foundation to enable safer, more secure and more reliable systems and this is an example of the international impact that Data61's research and development is creating."