China, Singapore line up for dumped CSIRO seL4 team

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

The world-leading Australian research team dumped by the CSIRO’s Data61 last week is in the acquisition sights of a large Chinese company and the Singapore Government’s R&D agency.

The two potential buyers have moved quickly to register their interest in acquiring the Trusted Systems team responsible for the extremely hard to hack seL4 microkernel.

NASDAQ-listed Chinese electric vehicle manufacturer Li Auto and Singapore’s research and science agency A*STAR are both understood to have expressed interest in buying the Trusted Systems team, which had been supported by the CSIRO for more than a decade.

The science agency’s digital arm Data61 last week revealed it will stop funding the world-renowned Trusted Systems team, because it no longer fits the CSIRO’s strategy, which is increasingly focused on artificial intelligence.

cybersecurity electronics
World-class: Buyers from China and Singapore want to buy a CSIRO seL4 security team dumped by the agency

Some Trusted Systems team members will be moved to AI projects while others are expected to lose their jobs in a broader restructure of Data61 that will see 70 positions lost.

It is unclear how CSIRO will deliver its outstanding commercial contracts that rely on seL4 knowledge.

The agency said it will work to smooth the transition but did not respond to requests for comment on the potential Trusted Systems buyers.

“CSIRO will work to minimise any impacts on partners or stakeholders as we implement the changes,” a spokesperson for the CSIRO told InnovationAus.

The seL4 microkernel claims to be the world’s most highly assured operating system kernel. It works by creating an ironclad separation between software systems to prevent unauthorised access.

Work will continue on the open source seL4 through an independent foundation set up last year, but the group needs secure base funding to operate and support the seL4 technology.

But two potential overseas buyers have already emerged. According to people involved in the project, Li Auto, a Chinese electric vehicle manufacturer and Singapore’s research and science agency A*STAR have expressed interest in acquiring the Trusted Systems team.

The Chinese manufacturer is believed to be interested in taking over the entire Trusted Systems team and setting up a research and development lab in Australia. The A*STAR offer is less certain but it is likely the agency would want to onshore the talent to Singapore.

A*STAR and the CSIRO already worked together, including a $2.2m joint program on food health and safety program, and a 2019 collaboration on machine learning.

In disbanding the Trusted Systems team last week, the CSIRO said seL4 was now a mature technology that is “well supported” outside the organisation.

But Trusted Systems team members, including UNSW Scientia Professor Dr Gernot Heiser, said they were disappointed support had been pulled from the world leading security team.

“Here is an absolutely recognised world class, world leading asset that’s unique in its composition and its track record and ability to do outstanding research, that’s being abandoned and destroyed,” Dr Heiser told InnovationAus on Friday.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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