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2/10/2009
06:15 PM
Sara Peters
Sara Peters
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Could Slimmer OSes Lead To Better Mobile Device Security?

Maybe I'm stretching a bit, but let's say that operating system developers slimmed down their standard OSes enough so that eventually they'd be skinny enough to have a career in fashion and, more important, run on mobile devices. And, if so, would this be a good thing for mobile device security?

Maybe I'm stretching a bit, but let's say that operating system developers slimmed down their standard OSes enough so that eventually they'd be skinny enough to have a career in fashion and, more important, run on mobile devices. And, if so, would this be a good thing for mobile device security?I pondered this today while reading Ephraim Schwartz's story on ComputerWorld, "The incredible shrinking operating system."

I've spoken before about how delightful it would be if Microsoft, Apple, and their colleagues would cool it with the window dressing and frenetic adding of new features, and, instead, take some time to make their current OSes slimmer. In fact, I was a bit giddy when Mac announced this was precisely its plan for Mac OS X "Snow Leopard." A trim OS moves more quickly than a massive, bloated OS. Plus, less code generally means more security.

Another compelling reason Schwartz mentioned for putting operating systems on a diet is because "a smaller OS can run on a greater variety of devices, and as netbooks, smartphones, and new devices like the iPod Touch gain traction, the benefit of a smaller OS becomes hard to ignore."

OK, so let's say your Apple comes out with the new, slim-and-sexy Mac OS X Snow Leopard, and it can run on your iPhone.

Good thing? Bad thing?

From an interoperability, ease-of-use standpoint, it sounds good. From a security standpoint--well, it could be good because the mobile platform would have gone through the same scrutiny as other operating systems. (Maybe Mac's a bad example, here, but you get my point.)

Similarly, the iPhone's Snow Leopard operating system could theoretically run the same well-scrutinized applications as an iMac's Snow Leopard. (Realistically, though, the applications, themselves, would have to lose a lot of tonnage if they want to dance with an iPhone's comparatively puny RAM.) If, for example, the security industry ever succeeds in developing a secure Web browser that actually works,, I'd love to see it work on my BlackBerry.

On the other hand, narrowing the number of OSes to pen test and exploit might make attackers' job easier.

I'm just beginning to ponder this. I'm eager to gain the benefit of your thoughts.

Sara Peters is senior editor at Computer Security Institute. Special to Dark Reading. Sara Peters is Senior Editor at Dark Reading and formerly the editor-in-chief of Enterprise Efficiency. Prior that she was senior editor for the Computer Security Institute, writing and speaking about virtualization, identity management, cybersecurity law, and a myriad ... View Full Bio

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