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Microsoft Research Envisions Leap in Browser Security with "Gazelle"

GazelleMicrosoft Research has re-imagined the Web browser to include its own operating system. In a technical report published on February 19, researchers argued that a radical change in browser architecture is necessary, because Web sites have evolved from static documents into dynamic Web applications that draw content from multiple sources.

Their proposed solution is a browser, code-named Gazelle, that is designed with a multi-principal operating system at its core. The researchers explained that Gazelle would be more secure than traditional Web browsers, because its OS would manage the protection of system resources and better isolate Windows from the Web.

“Our prototype implementation and evaluation experience indicates that it is realistic to turn an existing browser into a multi-principal OS that yields significantly stronger security and robustness with acceptable performance and backward compatibility,” the researchers wrote.

Gazelle blazes a path that no modern browser has followed, including Internet Explore 8 and Google Chrome, they added. However, it might not be entirely necessary to go back to the drawing board: Microsoft has managed to make the current incarnation of Internet Explorer safer over the years by taking measures sucvh as restricting what system resources the browser may access and limiting application privileges through User Account Control in Windows Vista. It is also attempting to create a new standard to isolate Web content for greater security.

Ultimately, the Gazelle project does not necessarily mean that Microsoft is coming up with a replacement for Internet Explorer; Microsoft research projects do not always become products. Nonetheless, some industry watchers, including Mary Jo Foley, believe that the company may give Gazelle greater exposure at its TechFest ‘09 research fair this week.

(Gazelle photo by Erik A. Drablos from Wikipedia.)

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