Google backs Linux project to make Android, Chrome OS harder to hack

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Google said Thursday it’s funding a project to increase Linux security by writing parts of the operating system’s core in the Rust programming language, a modernization effort that could bolster the security of the internet and smartphones .



icon: Miguel Ojeda


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Miguel Ojeda

If the project succeeds, it’ll be possible to add new elements written in Rust into the heart of Linux, called the kernel. Such a change would mark a major technological and cultural shift for an open-source software project that’s become foundational to Google’s Android and Chrome operating systems as well as vast swaths of the internet. 

Miguel Ojeda, who’s written software used by the Large Hadron Collider particle accelerator and worked on programming language security, is being contracted to write software in Rust for the Linux kernel. Google is paying for the contract, which is being extended through the Internet Security Research Group, a nonprofit that’s also made it easier to secure website communications through the Let’s Encrypt effort.



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© Miguel Ojeda


Adding Rust modules to the Linux kernel would improve security by closing some avenues for hackers can use to attack phones, computers or servers. Since it was launched in 1991, Linux has been written solely in the powerful but old C programming language. The language was developed in 1972 and is more vulnerable to hacks than contemporary programming languages.

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Better security for Linux is good news for everyone but hackers. In addition to the Android and Chrome OSes, Google services like YouTube and Gmail all rely on servers running Linux. It also powers Amazon and Facebook, and is a fixture in cloud computing services.

It isn’t clear if Linux kernel leaders will accommodate Rust. Linus Torvalds, the founder of Linux, has said he’s open to change if Rust for Linux champions prove its worth. Ojeda has proposed 13 changes needed to allow Rust modules in Linux to get things started.

Google already has taken some early steps to make it possible to use Rust for Linux Android. Getting buy-in at the highest levels of the Linux kernel project means many other software projects could benefit, too.

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