[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]
Intel's Security Plans Worry PC Builders
I wonder what government sponsored back doors they plan to include...
Intel's Security Plans Worry PC Builders
(12/14/98, 3:49 p.m. ET)
By Rick Boyd-Merritt and Mark Carroll, EE Times
Intel will add new security and software functions to future
chip sets in a move that will boost the profile of its
upcoming Katmai processors as key silicon for multimedia
and e-commerce. But the plan is raising concerns among
software, semiconductor and systems companies that fear
the processor giant could wind up encroaching on their
markets, extending its own reach deeper into the PC
Intel's plans center around a so-called firmware hub,
essentially a flash memory with key BIOS functions,
which will be part of its Camino, Carmel, and Whitney chip
sets. Those products will accompany next year's Katmai
processors and are expected to be used in the Merced line,
"This is an example of Intel taking in one more piece of the
PC architecture," said a senior R&D manager with a major
PC company who asked not to be named.
Intel would not comment on its unannounced products.
However, the key features of the chip are beginning to
come to light based on reports from multiple sources. The
firmware hub is "basically a flash chip with locks on its
read and write capabilities that can be opened using a
cryptographic protocol," said another source briefed by
Hardware security functions include a cryptographic
engine to authenticate digital certificates Intel or a third
party could load in. The chip could hold multiple
certificates, each with permission to grant specific
features, such as to permit an operating system or an
MPEG player to run. They would also ensure a software
program licensed to one user was not copied and run on
another machine, a common practice. In addition, the
certificates will act like unique serial numbers, identifying a
given machine in any Internet or corporate network
transaction, sources said.
The hub may also include a random-number generator to
create public keys for encryption and help enable
encrypted transmissions between PCs. That would provide
security for e-commerce and software downloads,
possibly including software modules for host-based
modems, MPEG players, or audio codecs that are
housed in the firmware hub and run on the CPU.
Another feature sources have mentioned is physical
security, linking sensors to the hub so it may report
problems to a central network administrator if the case is
tampered with or peripherals are removed.
Even though the firmware -- and the chip sets it is part of
-- are not due for production until at least mid-1999,
samples have been available in Taiwan for some time.
"We have had samples of the firmware hub for a while,"
said a project manager at First International Computer, in
Taiwan. "We really haven't done too much with it yet. It is
still not quite clear when it will be used and what its
full functions will be."
The hub chip is designed to incorporate new features into
the PC upon start-up, the manager said, not to replace the
standard BIOS, the key software that controls system I/O
"After a PC is turned on, the firmware hub will be
accessed and then the regular BIOS," said a BIOS
engineer with another Taiwanese company. "The hub will
affect the standard BIOS architecture, but it certainly
won't replace it. That's not its purpose."
Yet the prospect of a possible Intel incursion into BIOS is
giving some industry observers the willies. Adding to their
concern is the fact that Intel has not provided technical
details about its implementation yet. One analyst said the
hub will act as a BIOS registry, a place from which
software emulation and upgrades can be controlled.
Sources close to Intel suggested the Santa Clara, Calif.,
company would be leery of entering a new PC-related
market while under the shadow of a Federal Trade
Commission investigation. The company's motive is simply
to bring new features to the PC, enhancing sales for
corporate and consumer users, these sources said.
Still, "If Intel controls what and how stuff gets put in the
BIOS, that's really significant," said one analyst.
"That's a wonderful control choke point."