Intel's embedded security strategy faces tech obstacles
Security vendors react to blockbuster deal
Security vendors have welcomed Intel's $7.7bn acquisition of McAfee as confirmation of the importance of security in the future of computing but warned plans to embed security in chips will pose difficult technical challenges and may upset existing partners.
Intel's blockbuster deal follows Symantec’s recent acquisition of PGP, IBM’s purchase of BigFix and most recently HP’s acquisition of application security firm Fortify. Platform vendors are buying security firms while the industry undergoes one of its most rapid phases of consolidation to date.
Pat Clawson, chief of endpoint security provider Lumension, said Intel's arch-rival AMD will need to consider whether it needs to mirror the acquisition, which is likely to send shock waves across the market.
"For the security industry, it makes the top layer of the security stack – such as Symantec – obvious acquisition targets not only for chip manufacturers but also hardware providers, such as mobile device manufacturers," Clawson said. "On the flip side, it could leave a wasteland of security companies as mid-sized security companies see a diminishing number of prospective acquirers."
The chip giant already markets secure virtualisation and secure XML gateway products, so it is not a complete stranger to the security market.
Intel wants to use the McAfee acquisition to make security a pillar of next-generation computing and to embed security in a much greater range of devices - everything from smartphones to TVs and cash machines. Executing this plan will not be without difficulties, security vendors warn.
“There are a lot of things wrong with today's anti-virus model such as tracking the sheer number of potential bad types of software," said Ron Gula, chief exec of Tenable Network Security. "Putting this into hardware may sound promising, but I question how much can be placed into a chip.
“If Intel can move the anti-virus agent into hardware, I'd like some assurances that this can be patched when a security vulnerability is found with it. Anti-virus software is very complex and we often run into customers whose agents are one or two patch levels behind and open to attack. Patching hardware or firmware is much harder than patching software.”
Intel hopes to develop security products for a wide range of devices, including smartphones, cash machines and even cars. Simply re-engineering existing desktop software is not enough, according to one mobile security expert.
"Defending an increasingly device-dominated internet has been used as a key rationalization for the deal – but smart device security is a highly specialized space, talent is scarce, and the combined company will need to substantially beef up its credentials in this area," commented Adrian Turner, chief exec of mobile security firm Mocana, a development partner of Symantec.
"The device-dominated internet will be fundamentally different from the PC security model familiar to both companies. It requires an entirely different philosophical and architectural approach – it can’t just be built on top of existing PC antivirus software," he added.
Rich Mogull of industry analysts Securosis said that Symantec, EMC/RSA, and other security vendors are likely to aggressively fight any integration of security and silicon, forcing Intel to keep the platform open to competitors. ®
"Security vendors have welcomed Intel's $7.7bn acquisition of McAfee as confirmation of the importance of security in the future of computing"
Well there's a surprise. Not. People whose businesses depend on security scares think their future is helped by Intel paying way over the odds for something that **end users** would be better off without.
End users (and indeed IT departments, if they'd just stop acting like Wintel zombies) would be better off with OSes and application platforms that were secure from the ground up, rather than the "defective by design" mess that is the Wintel world at the moment. And not just Wintel either, there are a few platform-independent exploits such as cross site scripting and whatnot.
Stuff like Mcafee is a bandaid on an open wound, but when your business is selling bandaids, you don't really want the would to heal too quickly do you...
How good is embedded security?
I was not aware that embedded security like hardware-enforced DEP had put much of a dent in malware. Is that perception wrong?
Yea, lets just allow the plague to spread and only treat the survivors.
Anti-virus by its very nature is reactive. It only becomes effective after the outbreak has spread to the point where it has been detected, analyzed, then prescribed.
The answer is prevention. The answer is building hardware that supports and encourages the distribution of hardened operating systems and applications. Hardware enforced sandboxing is what the chip makers should be spending their (our) money on.
Huh ? Security in TVs ??
Good God please say it ain't so ! TVs are dumb terminals and should stay that way.
Any effort to grant them programmatic knowledge is just a security hole begging to be abused., or to imprint them with the ability to refuse to show the film we just bought at the store.
TVs should stay dumb, period.
That is non-negotiable.
This is still a monumental waste.
However, it's Intel's money and may make a profit. But I still think has no relevance to chips.
Education of users is more effective than AV/anti-malware software. Blackhats "trick" (not hard) users into installing the stuff. Putting magic McAfee Pixies inside the chip will not stop that at all.