The challenge


Critical systems, such as aircraft, vehicles, medical devices and industrial control systems, are becoming increasingly dependent on software for functionality and are being produced with more complex functions.

Critical systems must perform their functions at all times as it would be disastrous, for example, if a plane stopped flying or if a medical device stopped functioning.

Unfortunately, increasing dependence on complex software for increased functionality also presents greater opportunities to hackers to target vulnerabilities that could threaten the safety and reliability of these systems.

Cars, insulin pumps and heart defibrillators have all been attacked by cyber hackers. Defence systems are a particular target which need to be able to perform their critical functions in the face of attacks.

Our response

Protection for complex systems

Our scientists are creating new software components and tools that will make critical systems safer, more reliable and more secure.

Partnering with Rockwell Collins and other collaborators on the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) High Assurance Cyber Military Systems (HACMS) Program we are developing a complete, formally proven software package that will protect the control and communication systems of an unmanned aerial vehicle from compromise from faults and targeted attacks.

As part of the program, the high assurance software systems being developed are subjected to ‘white box’ attacks by an expert ‘red team’, to test their robustness. White box attacks are attempts to penetrate a system by teams with complete knowledge of their target to expose any security flaws so that they can be addressed.

The results

Hack-resistant software

The overall objective of the DARPA HACMS program is to raise the bar on how critical software-controlled hardware systems are built.

At the core of these new systems is the trustworthy computing base known as the seL4 microkernel developed by our scientists and mathematically proven to perform correctly to specification. It can protect sensitive data from unauthorised modification or read access.

It is expected that that the outcomes of this work will benefit other industries that rely on critical systems including in motor vehicles, medical devices and aircraft.

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