The company late yesterday announced its work on the new Google Chrome OS, a lightweight OS that sits atop a Linux kernel and will run on X86 and ARM chips.
"We are going back to the basics and completely redesigning the underlying security architecture of the OS so that users don't have to deal with viruses, malware," blogged Google's Sundar Pichai, vice president for product management, and Linus Upson, engineering director. "Most of the user experience takes place on the Web."
Chrome OS code will be available as open source later this year, and Google says it plans to make it available on netbooks by the second half of 2010.
Google wouldn't provide specifics on the OS or its security features beyond the blog post, but security experts say while this Web application-focused OS should eliminate the usual desktop threats, it still will be subject to Web-borne threats. Web application vulnerabilities today are some of the most prevalent, with cross-site scripting (XSS) and SQL injection attacks increasing on Websites.
"[Google Chrome OS] should be immune to most existing PC viruses, but will face Web-based risks and attacks much like any other browser model would," says Rob Enderle, principal analyst with the Enderle Group. "User authentication is probably [the] biggest problem -- even more than a PC -- as this will become a natural key to a lot of large databases and services."
Enderle says the Chrome OS will likely also focus on phishing and Web-borne attacks versus traditional desktop viruses. "It effectively changes the security model for the desktop into something much more similar to a thin client/cell phone model," he says.
Rich Mogull, founder of Securosis, says smart handsets already have paved the way to this type of user model. But the Chrome OS model doesn't necessarily mean safer computing for consumers. "It just shifts the risk," he says. "It's just going to be a shift in attacks [to Web applications]...and we've already seen of lot of that [occurring]. If anything, [Chrome OS is] going to highlight Web application security issues."
Paul Henry, security and forensics expert for Lumension, says Google thus far hasn't provided enough information on the security elements of Google Chrome OS. "There have been claims that it is virus-free or virus-proof -- however, there really is no specific security capability mentioned on the product beyond, perhaps, the reduced threat envelope you would get in using any application-specific OS," he says.
Meanwhile, Google said in its announcement that the Web is the platform for application developers writing for Chrome OS. "All Web-based applications will automatically work and new applications can be written using your favorite web technologies. And of course, these apps will run not only on Google Chrome OS, but on any standards-based browser on Windows, Mac and Linux thereby giving developers the largest user base of any platform," the blog said.
Enderle says Chrome OS is basically a scaled-up Android based on the Linux kernel. "An app store model will limit most of what runs, and an increasing amount of content will be online and not run locally at all," he says.
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