IBM has shown off a technology that allows the booting of a secure, cloud based operating system off a single USB stick.
Shown off at CeBIT for the first time, the tech is known as "Secure Enterprise Desktop", and features a USB drive with its own bootloader, HTTPS and code to create a secure connection between a drive on the host computer and a remote server - making many a piece of remote connectivity software somewhat obsolete.
"You take a computer, you boot from this device, this device establishes via its own processor a connection to the server, then there's a two-way authentication so the server knows who you are and you know the server is the server," said Paolo Scotton, a computer security scientist at IBM's research labs in Zurich, in an interview with ZDNet. "Once you establish this connection you download a small [virtual machine] hypervisor."
Once a user has setup their OS of preference - the available ones for now are Windows or Linux - the IBM developed driver is able to monitor access from the OS, meaning only necessary information is transferred between the two hardware systems. Keeping that information secure, IBM uses an AES-256 encryption standard on all data written to the partitioned disk, with any changes replicated on the cloud-hosted operating system.
A removal of the flash disk cuts the connection, immediately shutting down the virtual OS, only reactivating if the specific USB drive is plugged back in and re-authenticated.
One interesting revelation is that IBM has been experimenting with BitTorrent based distribution over multiple servers. This would make the technology very scalable, but is likely to raise eyebrows in terms of security in certain business sectors, since peer to peer is often linked with piracy and nefarious activities.