Intel swallows McAfee: Why?
The three Ss: security, security, security
In its biggest acquisition ever, Intel has pledged to spend $7.6bn for security firm McAfee in a bid to add security to its portfolio of mostly chippy stuff. There are lots of stories all over webdom covering this, including the Reg's own from John Leyden. A CRN think piece discusses more background and talks about how Intel and McAfee have been working together for nearly two years on more closely integrating security and hardware.
Most of our reader comments to our story were along the lines of, “WTF?” “Why?” and my favorite, “First of all, why? Secondly, seriously, why?” Here’s my quick attempt at answering both the “WTF” and “Why” questions.
First of all, security is a big deal. Anyone reading this already knows how important security is – and how bad security leads to bad, bad things from a technical and business perspective.
The second point is that we’re seeing an exponential rise in network-connected stuff: one McAfee rep said that they’ve seen data pointing to 50 billion network-enabled devices in the next few years. That means 50 billion potential security holes for malcontents and Russian Mafioso types to exploit.
Threats are also rising exponentially – according to McAfee, it's seen three times more exploits and security threats so far this year than in the previous three years combined.
I also think we can agree that hardware-based security or hardware-assisted security is definitely faster than software-only solutions. One of the things that many posters have bitched about is how security software slows down their systems. I’ve found that this is true no matter what security package is used; it’s just the problem you’re going to get with a strictly software-based security solution.
So we have established that three things are in play here: security is getting more important, and threats are rising; more and more devices need to be secured; and hardware-based security is a good thing.
Intel sees the same things and, from what I’m hearing, it now considers security a key pillar in the future of computing and network devices. If that’s the case, then – being Intel – it needs to take a broad look at security and figure out the best way to make a business out of it. Looking at it from this angle, I see four big-picture reasons why Intel is buying McAfee. I’m putting them in a numbered list for your reading convenience – these aren’t in any particular order:
1. McAfee has invested a lot in putting together what I see as the most proactive security organization in the business. Its Global Threat Intelligence lab constantly looks for new and/or improved exploits, and quickly develops fixes that are deployed to its customers before they get hit. Most other security vendors try to be proactive, but they don’t put the emphasis on it or the resources behind it that McAfee does. For Intel, this is an attractive asset, as it gives it a foundation to build on.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle to cloud adoption with real-world customers is their doubts about how safe their data is in the cloud. Intel has a major interest in clouds, and being a key cloud security player gives it the ability to sell more products to cloud providers and get a bigger share of the deals.
3. In the near term, there are a lot of product-based things that a combined Intel-McAfee could roll out. I can see a security-enabled chipset for server or PC motherboards as a definite possibility down the road. This could give Intel a shot at establishing a standard, and licensing it to partners and competitors alike.
4. Sooner still, I can see a joint network appliance – probably aimed at small business – that acts as a security Swiss Army knife. It would be a gateway type box that monitors and manages all internal and external networking, combining a firewall with anti-virus, anti-spam, and a host of other functions. It could also monitor what documents are sent out of the organization to ensure that valuable things like product plans and customer lists aren’t being emailed or FTP’d out of the firm.
There are products like this in the market now, but Intel can add value in a variety of ways. It can jack up the performance or, with its manufacturing prowess and scale, drop the cost significantly.
This transaction isn’t about cost-cutting. It also isn’t about Intel just looking for a piece of the security pie. I see it as additive, giving Intel a solid presence in a part of the market that will continue to grow in terms of importance and spending.
I don’t see any reason why Intel would do anything to change how McAfee is currently doing business. According to both Intel and McAfee, it’s going to be business as usual for McAfee – it’ll continue to support and develop all of its existing products and stay on its current roadmap.
What will change, I think, is that there will soon be a lot of new additions to that roadmap as Intel and McAfee explore the possibilities of their new union. ®
What really happend
Head Intel Exec: "Hmm I need new Antivirus Software"... Phones Underling "Go buy McAfee!"
A few days later
Underling: "We've just bought McAfee"
Head Intel Exec: "Great! What version?"
Underling: "Version?" *GULP*
I'm dismayed that Intel would even want to associate with CrapAfee. I'm not a Windows user but wherever I have seen their piss poor software in action, it practically grinds the machine to a halt. They were the number one reason why my Mum ditched her perfectly good laptop for another one. I took it off her hands but she wondered why I could possibly want it, seeing as it was all but unusable. It literally took 15 minutes to boot up before it would let you actually do anything and from there, it was still painful. Before giving it a new lease of life (Linux), I wanted to see whether simply removing CrapAfee would fix the problem. Well, whaddya know...
A few points...
"I also think we can agree that hardware-based security or hardware-assisted security is definitely faster than software-only solutions"
There is no such thing as a hardware-based security device for most of this stuff. Any firewall, virus scanner, spam blocker, whatever, is, by definition, a software component. It might (might!) use some specialised hardware to do encryption or suchlike, but it's still essentially a software device.
"Perhaps the biggest hurdle to cloud adoption with real-world customers is their doubts about how safe their data is in the cloud"
And that is going to change how? Because your cloud supplier has a sticker that says "we're protected by McAfee"? Yea - that's going to work!
The "cloud" is always going to have a problem in that it is inherently untrustworthy. I might (and it's a big might) use a "cloud" service if I could easily encrypt all my data LOCALLY before committing it. But even then, there would still be a nagging "what if..." in the back of my mind. And I'm sure I'm not alone in this. No amount of "we use McAfee" stickers is going to change this. And this doesn't even start to address any basic reliability doubts people may have.
"Sooner still, I can see a joint network appliance – probably aimed at small business – that acts as a security Swiss Army knife"
As you say, this exists already. Combine a decent and secure OS, pf, a decent email server, dspam, spamd, ClamAV, http proxy, snort, etc, and you have just such a device. Oh, and this is all free (apart from the hardware to run it on, of course).
There is no way you can run all this functionality on a single (intel?) chip today, but you CAN easily run it all on a teeny embedded PC type board. If you need more grunt then get a faster PC.
...which is where we came in ....why?