|Today, I was in the midst of info security discussions about a Chinese operating system called "Kylin". |
This set of discussions was launched by a Washington Times article by Bill Gertz today, "China blocks U.S. from cyber warfare". The article claimed:
---(I was not able to find the RED SOS report online yet.)
Chinese authors believe the United States already is carrying out offensive cyber espionage and exploitation against China. China therefore must protect its own assets first in order to preserve the capability to go on the offensive. While this is a highly unpopular statement, WE ARE IN THE EARLY STAGES OF A CYBER ARMS RACE AND NEED TO RESPOND ACCORDINGLY!
This race was intensified when China created Kylin, their own hardened server operating system and began to convert their systems back in 2007. This action also made our offensive cyber capabilities ineffective against them given the cyber weapons were designed to be used against Linux, UNIX and Windows. Refer to our report - RED SOS.
Looking at my Twitter feeds throughout the day, I was seeing much tweeting about Kylin OS. Then, I mentioned the topic to Heike of The Dark Visitor blog about Chinese hackers. As I kept learning more about Kylin, it became clear that I should compile the information and post it on this blog.
The Kylin Web Site
Kylin's Web site is at http://www.kylin.org.cn/
[Rough rendition of the site into English via Google Translate]
By the way, some people have noted that, ironically, the site for a secure OS has an SQL injection vulnerability.
Kylin OS History
I learned that the Kylin OS has been around for several years, going back to 2001.
China Military Online, a Web site sponsored by the PLA Daily of the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army, reported in February 2005 of the development of Kylin as a the PRC's own operating system that could replace foreign OSes. The Kylin OS was developed by the University of Science and Technology for National Defense (affiliated with the PLA). The project began when...
---In December 2006, Xinghua reported about Kylin OS. One of the things this report mentioned was that the University had signed an agreement with the LENOVO for production and application of the Kylin system.
In 2001, the central government decided to assign the mission of developing an operating system with independent intellectual property right, a major special project of the state's "863 Hi-tech Program", to the Computer Science Institute of the National University of Defense Technology. Upon receiving the mission, the institute swiftly organized a strong scientific and technological task group to brave difficulties and hardships and make bold innovations. Eventually, the group succeeded in making breakthroughs in a series of core technologies and developed the first 64-bit operating system with high security level (B2 class)-the Kylin server operating system. The system is not only compatible with the mainstream operating systems in the world, but also supports several multiple microprocessors and computers of different structures. In addition, the system is also the first operating system without Linux kernel that has obtained Linux global standard authentification by the international Free Standards Group (FSG).
Information Warfare Monitor has a post "Kylin operating system plagiarized from the FreeBSD5.3?" and pointed to the Dancefire site with it comparison of Kylin and FreeBSD 5.3. The similarities between the two OSes reportedly reached 99.45 percent.
The interesting Kylin information is under the Dancefire site's News section, which is in Chinese. The good news for those of us who cannot read Chinese is that Google Translate does a passable rendition of the texts. (Kylin is rendered by Google as "Kirin". I don't think it has anything to do with the Japanese beer. Does it?)
ADDED 1 June 2009: Jumper at The Dark Visitor blog has been taking a look at Kylin and has a good posting there.
How "Secure" is This "Secure OS"? [added 13 May 2009]
Much of the reporting about Kylin, including the PRC's PR about the OS, seems to take the claims it is a "secure OS" at face value. But I have not yet come across any extensive security testing of Kylin. Also, I am wondering how much ongoing security support for Kylin is there. I mean things such as security patches, forums, etc.
Security researcher Dancho Danchev raises several excellent points that challenge the notions that the PRC's (or any other country's) "secure OS" poses a real threat to the US cyber-offensice capabilities. Danchev writes regarding the "re-branding" of FreeBSD as Kylin and about the limits of "national security OSes":
---Then, Danchev provides the example of a US penetration test of a US government site and found "763 high-risk, 504 medium-risk, and 2,590 low-risk vulnerabilities, such as weak passwords and unprotected critical file folders.” The assortment of applications on the systems and their complexity gave ample footholds for exploitation. Then, there are human factors, including human foibles, that can affect security. Although better designed or hardened OSes can help, they are but one component of security.
All warfare is indeed based on deception, especially when you’re re-branding.
The rush to participate in the “national security operating system” arms race is pretty evident across the world, with the European Union’s secure OS Minix, the U.S Air Force new ‘secure distribution of Windows XP‘ and Russia’s interest in a similar secure OS.What everyone appears to be forgetting is the fact that security is proportional with usability, and as well as the fact that complexity is the worst enemy of security.
So is the PRC's Kylin a Part of Cyber-Warfare, Cyber-Security, or Both?
It's both. (Note, I am leery of the cyber-warfare term. It can encourage massive, costly projects and bad analogies.)
I understand Mr. Coleman's concerns about cyberwarfare aspects and how the PRC's cyber-defence could hinder US cyber cababilities against their systems. But, we should not deem overall attempts to have more secure operating systems as "warfare" in a sinister sense per se. Improving cyber-security is something that we all should be doing. Being "peaceful" in the networked world does not mean having servers running unpatched Windows. The US, UK, etc. should be encouraging their government, corporate, and infrastructure systems to be better secured. (The US has done projects such NSA's work on Security Enhanced Linux. Some might call that as an example of US cyber-warfare.)
Special thanks to
- The Information Warfare Monitor [Web] [Twitter]
- "Heike" on The Dark Visitor
- Richard Stiennon for the @Cyberwar tweets on Twitter.
Added 13 May 2009:Stiennon has a good posting, "Kylin reports unsubstantial" on his Threat Chaos blog. That post references my post here.
Jonathan D. Abolins
- Current Mood: exhausted