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Intel needs to rethink security to profit from McAfee buy

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Switched-on security

Intel can also build McAfee's security and management tech into its atom chips for mobile devices, and PCs. Whether the processor runs 50 per cent slower as a result, or even begins detecting USB ports as potential malign, as some wags have joked, remains to be seen.

Phoenix Technologies put anti-virus and management technology into BIOS systems with its Phoenix Core Management Environment, or CME, technology. The technology was designed to be operating system independent and used on both PCs, servers, appliances and embedded systems. The technology was designed to help users cope better with system failures. However, the idea didn't set the industry aflame. Phoenix sold out to a pirvate equity firm earlier this week, having retreated back to its core business.

Intel may be aiming for a similar play, which will give it the opportunity to charge equipment manufacturers a small extra amount for each device.

Hardware-enhanced anti-virus

The acquisition of a platform computing heavyweight of a security firm is, if nothing else, likely to mark the beginning of a shake up of the market segments and increased focus on the tricky fight against hackers and malware threats.

If Intel adds more security at the silicon level, the deal may yet prove fruitful. But it makes little sense for Intel to fight it out in the highly competitive anti-virus marketplace, simply running McAfee's existing lines of business as a high-margin software play.

There's even a potential for Intel to re-engineer how anti-virus technology is delivered. There are many components of modern anti-virus but signatures are still a core component. Intrusion detection systems are also dependent on signatures to detect attacks.

Vendors responded to performance concerns by making greater use of ASICs so that these devices could work at wire speeds. Perhaps something similar might be done in anti-malware to address the frequent performance gripes.

Cloud security or anti-malware for embedded devices addresses a modest security threat, for now at least. And McAfee's competitors are already targeting these emerging markets.

The alternative play - Intel plus security inside every cell phone, TV and car - might be helped by McAfee's expertise in talking up security threats, but fails to do much on the main front against cybercrime, which remains on desktop PCs and servers. ®

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