12 Aug 2011

Bowdoin researcher on cutting edge of virtual machine technology

Daniela Oliveira, a Bowdoin University assistant professor, is spearheading innovative computer security research projects to develop virtual machines, according to an Academic Spotlight profile on the university’s website.

The majority of current hardware and software is fundamentally insecure because they were developed before cyber crime was a serious issue, Oliveira told the source.

"It wasn’t a problem 12 years ago," Oliveira said. "Now we have actual criminal organizations, Tony Soprano stuff. No computer is safe."

Oliveira and her research team are developing a number of novel computer security safeguards, including virtual machines that allow a single computer to run multiple operating systems. Using VM technology, one machine could host Mac, Windows and Linux operating systems and applications.

This increases functionality and security, because each OS believes it is the only program accessing the computer’s core elements, such as the central processing unit and physical memory. A malware attack on one OS will be contained, keeping the underlying host system bug-free.

While exciting, virtual machine technology is not a computer security silver bullet quite yet.

Microsoft has already introduced software that allows users to run multiple Windows operating systems on a single computer. Last spring, computer security experts discovered a security flaw in this software that made certain applications more vulnerable to attack in the virtualized environment than in the native operating system