You are here

Secure computing device enhances productivity

2 September 2021
Defence scientist Mark Beaumont.
Defence scientist Mark Beaumont.

The innovative Cross Domain Desktop Compositor is in the running for a Eureka Prize.

For individuals, small businesses and government departments alike, failing to keep important information secure could have serious consequences. The good news is that by implementing relatively simple cyber-security measures, Australians can protect themselves against common online threats and continue to enjoy the many benefits of today’s hyper-connected world.

But for large organisations that need to put in place more advanced security arrangements, ensuring that information is secure might entail a trade-off that makes it harder for employees to do their jobs.

Sometimes it makes sense to intentionally impede the flow of data inside an organisation by preventing computer networks from communicating with each other. Within many classified organisations, networks with different security classifications are isolated. This approach greatly enhances security but is suboptimal in terms of productivity.

To overcome this challenge, Defence scientists worked with CSIRO’s Data61 digital research network and partners in academia to develop the Cross Domain Desktop Compositor (CDDC).

This computing device allows information and systems to remain physically separated from networks that are accessible to hackers while enabling users to seamlessly interact with and across those systems. Data is kept safe and usability is enhanced, resulting in faster and more effective decision-making processes.

The CDDC was originally conceived and prototyped as a hardware-only device by Mark Beaumont of Defence Science and Technology Group. Collaboration between Defence, CSIRO and Associate Professor Toby Murray at the University of Melbourne led to developments that underpinned the mathematically proven security of the device.

“The world is more connected and reliant on online data and services than ever before, making those services an attractive target for hackers,” Beaumont says. “Data is key for sectors like defence, critical infrastructure and finance, where there’s a need to process and share information while still keeping it safe.

“By combining secure hardware with the world-leading verified operating system seL4 and backed by cutting-edge mathematical analysis, the Cross Domain Desktop Compositor provides productivity benefits for information sharing while reducing the risk of attack.”

Beaumont and Murray worked together to redesign the CDDC to include software components, increasing its flexibility and therefore enhancing usability. Later research by Murray and University of Melbourne colleague Dr Robert Sison saw the development of methods to prove that the device’s software-based design is secure.

“The strong collaboration between Defence, CSIRO and university partners highlights the importance of leveraging expertise where it exists,” Beaumont says.

“The CDDC is a great example of complementary research being combined together to progress the state of the art. We would not have been able to achieve the outcomes and the level of security required for Defence without all of the partners in this project working together.”

This ground-breaking research has been recognised with a nomination for the Eureka Prize for Outstanding Science in Safeguarding Australia.

“While it’s a privilege to be selected as a finalist, it’s actually recognition of a much greater team effort and the strength of the research partnership,” Beaumont says. “The CDDC technology doesn’t exist in isolation; it builds on many decades of existing research into trustworthy systems.”

The CDDC is currently undergoing a technology-transition process from laboratory research to prototype, with a production-ready device expected to be realised in the first half of next year.