Microsoft says new experimental architecture could cut number of necessary security patches

For quite some time now, Rust has been touted as a potential replacement for C++ when it comes to writing some Windows components.

Some consider C++ outdated and Microsoft itself even acknowledges that switching to Rust could eliminate the need for constant security patches. This is mostly because the majority of vulnerabilities revolve around memory-safety – an issue allegedly inherent to C++.

But it appears Microsoft won’t be moving to Rust in a hurry, as the company is working on a new, experimental architecture that could prove even more valuable.

Called CHERI (Capability Hardware Enhanced RISC), the infrastructure could have mitigated about two-thirds of the memory-safety vulnerabilities that had to be patched in 2019, according to ZDNet .

“[CHERI] provides memory-protection features against many exploited vulnerabilities, or in other words, an architectural solution that breaks exploits,” explained Nicolas Joly, Saif ElSherei and Saar Amar of Microsoft Security Response Center.

A spokesperson from Cambridge University added that “CHERI extends conventional hardware Instruction-Set Architectures (ISAs) with new architectural features to enable fine-grained memory protection and highly scalable software compartmentalization”.

According to ZDNet, CHERI has memory protection features that would adapt historically memory-unsafe programming languages and make them safer against widely exploited vulnerabilities.

Cutting down on patch frequency would result in significant savings for the company; Microsoft currently issues more than 100 patches every month. Making existing code compatible with CHERI could even be cheaper than rewriting existing code in Rust or a similar memory-safe language, it was added.

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