by CIO Staff

‘$100 Laptop’ to Provide Cutting-Edge Security

Oct 09, 20063 mins

The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative, a program aimed at bridging the digital divide via low-end laptops for children, will offer cutting-edge security technologies with its machines, the Associated Press reports via the MIT Technology Review.

The initiative, originally dubbed the $100 Laptop project, was launched at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and it works with governments of underdeveloped areas to provide computers to the children in such locations. Starting in 2007, as many as 7 million machines will be distributed to kids by governments in Thailand, Nigeria, Brazil and Argentina, according to the AP.

One Laptop Per Child concept photo
OLPC Concept Photo

The computers are to run on the Linux open-source operating system.

Though the “$100 laptops” have garnered negative attention for their lack of features, flash memory in place of hard drives and relatively weak processors, the security measures included may give pundits and critics reason to tout their benefits.

Due to the fact that programmers have “started from scratch” building hardware and software for the machines, they’ve been able to work on new security protocols that could potentially prove more effective than those used in mainstream machines, the AP reports.

Though the developers are still vetting their safeguards with external security professionals, they predict that the new measures could eventually make antivirus software obsolete, according to the AP.

Most computers are currently configured to allow any program to access files kept in any place on the machines; however, the OLPC computers will include a feature that makes all programs hit a “walled garden,” barring them from accessing select files, said Ivan Krstic, an OLPC software architect, the AP reports.

Krstic said even if that measure were to fail, improved encryption techniques will make sure the software that runs on a computer when first powered up, or the BIOS, is not taken over, according to the AP. PC booting cannot be blocked without access to the BIOS, so the machines will always be able to restart, the AP reports.

“It’s essentially unbelievably difficult to do anything to the machine that would cause permanent hardware failure,” Krstic told the AP.

Due to the massive production scale of the OLPC machines, they’ll likely become the targets of hackers and other cybercriminals, so strong security safeguards will be required, the AP reports.

The laptops will connect via “mesh” networks to transfer data and code, and this could prove to be one of the most exploitable features, according to the AP.

All security measures will be able to be turned on and off, so users can disassemble and study their internal components, and they’ll automatically back all their data up on servers at the schools attended by owners each time they travel within range, the AP reports.

For additional concept photos and information, visit the OLPC site.

Related Links:

  • Negroponte Gives $100 Laptop Update

  • MIT’s Negroponte Shoots Down $100 Laptop Criticism

  • Bill Gates Blasts $100 Laptop

  • MIT Media Lab’s Negroponte Resigns

Check out our CIO News Alerts and Tech Informer pages for more updated news coverage.