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Big Blue Unveils Security Chips

Big Blue Unveils Security Chips

If any company can be effective in rolling out a chip-based encryption technology such as SecureBlue, it is IBM, said IT-Harvest Founder and Chief Analyst Richard Stiennon. Growing concerns over not just computer security issues, but also government surveillance, are likely to drive encryption technologies in the market, he said.

By Jay Lyman
04/10/06 1:32 PM PT

IBM has reportedly come up with a hardware-secured processor design that incorporates encryption onto the chip. The technology could be used to lock down PCs and mobile devices.

Big Blue made no official announcement, but company executives indicated the technology, dubbed "SecureBlue," was relatively simple, and may even be used with other manufacturer's processors and products.

Details were scant, but analysts said IBM, with its business spread across hardware, software, security and services, is in a good position to introduce the technology to the industry.

Hardware Security

Security concerns have brought more focus on data security, in particular on hardware-based security that is embedded into the processors that power PCs and other devices.

The advent of dual-core and multi-core processors has also paved the way for more security capability that does not hinder the user's experience. One example is collaboration from Microsoft and Intel on chip-level security in their Trusted Computing initiative.

Now IBM is looking to get into the fray with SecureBlue's encryption engine.

The challenge, however, is that "encryption is not something users see as valuable," Gartner Research Vice President Martin Reynolds told TechNewsWorld. "It's something that most see as a nuisance."

Encrypt on a Chip

Chip-based security measures typically fall under three categories, including failsafe mechanisms that self-destruct or block data access during failure; asymmetric key encryption to establish trusted channels; and the use of the encryption keys to communicate securely, according to Reynolds.

IBM is taking on the latter task with SecureBlue, he said, and it remains to be seen whether the company has addressed the processing power problems associated with encryption, which can be especially troublesome for small and mobile devices.

The processor technology and IBM's reach in a number of embedded device markets, such as mobile phones and gaming consoles, are likely to help push SecureBlue along, Reynolds said.

However, the analyst reiterated that users may not appreciate security measures they perceive as pesky.

"It's useful and people will use it," Reynolds said. "The challenge is making an encryption market."

Whose Security?

While there are clear reasons for and potential benefits to come from secure, encrypted communications and data transfer, it requires a form of "manufacturer collusion" to embed such technology in mainstream devices, IT-Harvest Founder and Chief Analyst Richard Stiennon told TechNewsWorld.

Stiennon said the Microsoft-Intel Trusted Computing processors, for example, are already in machines, but have not gained much traction because they are associated with software license enforcement and digital rights management (DRM).

Still, if any company can be effective in rolling out a chip-based encryption technology such as SecureBlue, it is IBM, Stiennon added.

Growing concerns over not just computer security issues, but also government surveillance, are likely to drive encryption technologies in the market, he concluded.


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