Snag in secure Solaris update?

Earlier this week, Sun Microsystems Inc. released the newest version of its Solaris 10 operating system, the first to come with the Trusted Extensions.

For anyone in government now running Trusted Solaris, this is big news, because it represents the first step in Sun's plans to phase out Trusted Solaris, and offer Solaris 10 with the Trusted Extensions as its replacement.

Trusted Solaris was a special stand-alone version of Solaris built with mandatory access control, and remains favored by defense and intelligence communities.

'Those components that were in Trusted Solaris 8 are now built into Solaris 10 as part of the base operating system,' said Tom Goguen, Sun's vice president of Solaris Software.

Upgrading from Trusted Solaris 8 to Solaris 10 with Trusted Extensions (Solaris 10 version 11/06) may--or may not--be a bit of chore, given the complexity and quality of the security-sensitive applications being moved from one platform to the other.

Goguen himself assured the upgrade should have minimal impact on existing applications.

'For the most part, well-written applications that are moved from Trusted Solaris 8 to Solaris 10 with Extensions should move over completely unmodified, as long as you're running on the same architecture,' he said.

In fact, if you want to switch server platforms, say from Sparc to x64/x86, this upgrade may be a good time to make the transfer. The source code for one platform should compile with little problem on the other, Goguen said.

That said, Sun officials have backed away from guaranteeing total binary and source code compatibility between the two platforms. Other Sun personnel I communicated with have warned that some reworking may be required for the upgrade. And users upgrading from Trusted Solaris are not eligible for Sun's Solaris Application Guarantee Program, which offers assistance for applications too stubborn to move from Solaris 8 and Solaris 10.

Mandatory access control is a feature in which all requests to the computer are examined to check of the originator has the appropriate authority to access that data or service. It is useful in that adminsitrators can tightly control what and can not be done on a computer.

In Solaris 10, the Trusted Extension layer needs to be enabled in order for the feature to work. Trusted Extensions addresses the requirements of Common Criteria's Labeled Security Protection Profile and the Role-Based Access Protection Profiles, just as Trusted Solaris did.

Overall, this more modular approach to offering access control makes sense. Trusted Solaris has always lagged behind the generic Solaris in terms of new features. By folding Trusted Solaris' access control features into the basic Solaris, and letting users deploy the extension on an as-needed basis, Sun can keep its most security-conscious users up to date with everyone else.

And Sun seems serious about making Solaris a trusted OS. The company has put Solaris 10 11/06 into evaluation for Common Criteria Certification at Evaluation Assurance Level 4+ for the Controlled Access, Role-Based Access Control and Labeled Security Protection Profiles. Once completed this certification will cover implementations on both SPARC and x64/x86 servers.

In addition, Solaris 10 3/05 was recently awarded Common Criteria Certification as well.

So while the move from Trusted Solaris to Solaris with Trusted Extensions promises to benefit government users, making the jump from one to the other may be a bit of work. Plan accordingly.


Update (1/22/07): We got some more useful information from Sun public relations manager Bob Wientzen on the migration. He e-mailed that applications 'from Trusted [Solaris] 8 will need to be ported to run on Solaris 10 with Trusted Extensions.' He also pointed out that Sun has been working with Trusted Solaris application vendors for over two years, so the vast majority have been well-equipped to deal with the switch.

And, of course, this news applies only to the Trusted Solaris applications. 'Apps written for Solaris 8 and apps available for Solaris 10 today will run unmodified on Solaris 10 with Trusted Extensions,' Wientzen noted.

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