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What Is a Secure Operating System?

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  • Written By: M. McGee
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 31 July 2014
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A secure operating system generally refers to one of two things; an operating system that focuses heavily on internal and external security or an operating system that has external security certification. In either case, these operating systems have a level of security that is higher than an average system. As a result, a secure operating system is generally used in locations that store important data or is at severe risk for attack.

Several operating systems focus on security as one of their main build points. These systems often have secure features and light encryption built directly into their code. This is in contrast to a normal operating system that usually relies on third-party programs. Since these programs do not load as part of the operating system, there is always a slight window in which to bypass them. On a secure operating system, the protections are indistinguishable and non-removable from the operating system as a whole; therefore, it is much harder to work around them.

Some of these secure operating systems are designed for a specific use and nothing else. For instance, the programming inside a hardware firewall or authentication server is often a variation on a common operating system. In these cases, the system still exists; it has simply been whittled down to the bare features required for the security protocols.

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Some standard operating systems will receive an approval from an external securities system. This type of secure operating system is generally very similar to a common user version, often with a few small changes. These changes make certain areas of the system more secure, but don’t change the overall methods and operations of the system.

Generally, a secure operating system is used in a high-risk location. The operating system will provide a first level of defense against intrusions and data theft. Even with a security-oriented operating system, it isn’t unusual to find other layers of encryption and protections on the computer. These additional third-party programs will overcome any shortfalls in the built-in programs and further protect the system.

Even with a secure operating system, user action plays a huge role in the overall security. For the average user, security often comes in second to usability. As a result, many users will turn off certain security systems once they get in the way of their computer use. On many secure systems, there are safeguards to prevent user interference or to turn protections back on automatically. This will help maintain a basic level of security, even when specific operations are disrupted.

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