The US military wants to understand the most important software on Earth

It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that the whole world is built on top of the Linux kernel—although most people have never heard of it.

t is one of the very first programs that load when most computers power up. It enables the hardware running the machine to interact with the software, governs its use of resources, and acts as the foundation of the operating system. It is the core building block of nearly all cloud computing, virtually every supercomputer, the entire internet of things, billions of smartphones, and more.

But the kernel is also open source, meaning anyone can write, read, and use its code. And that’s got cybersecurity experts inside the US military seriously worried. Its open-source nature means the Linux kernel—along with a host of other pieces of critical open-source software—is exposed to hostile manipulation in ways that we still barely understand.

“People are realizing now: wait a minute, literally everything we do is underpinned by Linux,”  says Dave Aitel, a cybersecurity researcher and former NSA computer security scientist. “This is a core technology to our society. Not understanding kernel security means we can’t secure critical infrastructure.”