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STANFORD, Calif. -- Sometimes it seems like the human default setting is to not trust. Nations have armies, corporations have lawyers, and doors have locks. Yet people often give too much trust to their software. Perhaps it is time for computers to have HiStar, a new Unix-like operating system that pares trust among software programs down to a bare minimum. Programs can still get legitimate jobs done, even without the presumption of trust. It's just much harder to try any funny stuff, like leaking sensitive data over networks.
"Today there is a big problem with untrustworthy code running on our machines," says Nickolai Zeldovich, a doctoral student in the research group of Stanford computer science Assistant Professor David Mazieres. Zeldovich presented HiStar to the computer science community at the USENIX 7th Symposium on Operating Systems Design and Implementation in Seattle earlier this month. His collaborators are fellow Stanford student Silas Boyd-Wickizer, UCLA Assistant Professor Eddie Kohler and Mazieres. "To start with, people download arbitrary code from Web sites and run it with full privileges on their desktop computers, leading to a rise in malware, spyware and so on. But even code you'd hope …