"Security vendors would say don't let the kids run anything you haven't signed, but that says nothing about the corrupting of approved applications or attacking the rest of the system; and since we want kids to have complete control of the computers, that's not an option," Krstić said.
"Instead of protecting from executing untrusted code, we protect while running unwanted code, and keep it from doing bad things to the system," Krstić said. "By running each application in its own virtual machine, and only giving each program the permissions that it needs, you suddenly get rid of a lot of common problems with viruses and spyware."
OLPC is so bent on allowing its young users to get their hands into the laptops' underlying operations, it has added a key to the devices' keyboards that allows them to view the source code of programs they are running. Security researchers contend that such features may create more problems than they solve.
Sean Coyne, a member of the Vulnerable Minds security think tank, told the ShmooCon crowd that the devices could easily be turned into a 10 million node botnet operation, or even have their cameras compromised by malware that helps aid in acts of international slavery and kidnapping.
On a more basic level, it will be very hard to control the fate of the computers aftrer they get outside the friendly landscape of academics and philanthropists who have conceived them, the expert said.
"This learning machine was made to be malleable in the file system, to be able to swap parts, and for the kids to see the code, and that's all fantastic for the kids, but those are also its greatest weaknesses," Coyne said. "Through changing it, people can nullify all the security concerns that have been taken, and throw away the good work that's been done."
The consultant theorized that foreign governments -- who are largely responsible for procuring the laptops -- could use them to distribute propaganda, or to track children's movements, or that people who see the machines as tools of Western influence might seek to take them from children and destroy the devices.
On another level, Coyne said that people in other nations may not want to see their children exposed to many of the social aspects of applications such as the Internet.
"Net culture is dominated by Western society, and now this is being piped into these developing nations and its unsure who is ready for it. Are these cultures ready for YouTube?" Coyne proposed. "We know that laptops can be exploited, and that kids can be exploited; kids with laptops can definitely be taken advantage of."
Other security experts lauded the OLPC's thrust, but questioned whether the project hasn't jumped to conclusions in thinking it can truly achieve its goal of changing education in poor nations simply by distributing the millions of laptops.
"Security is a combination of the ludicrous and the dangerous. You have to prepare all the time for things you can't see, and be able to respond to things you didn't plan for," said Jason Scott, founder of the Textfiles.com bulletin board archiving site. "The OLPC has made a bunch of speculations about the security of its laptop. People see it as a beautiful sweet little candy-colored neon machine and want to sprinkle it all over the muffin of Africa. There are a lot of things that could go wrong."