Has Intel changed the face of security?

Intel's purchase of McAfee could herald a major shift in security strategy, but its likely to be a long term goal

Tags: Intel CorporationMcAfee IncorporationMergers and acquisitionsMicroprocessor
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Has Intel changed the face of security? How much security can you fit on a chip?
By  Mark Sutton Published  August 22, 2010

Intel surprised everyone last week, with the announcement that it is to buy security company McAfee.

The deal might look like a mis-match - why would a microprocessor company want a security software company? - but Intel's explanation of making security a ‘third pillar' of computing, alongside internet connectivity and energy efficiency, is at least a step in the right direction.

The current model of computer security, of, mainly, only trying to secure a perimeter and block already identified threats, is generally agreed to be inadequate to keep up with the emerging threat landscape, especially as the first two pillars of connectivity and low power consumption increase the ubiquity of processing power and diversify the IT infrastructure. Intel's move to inject security expertise into the heart of computing, assuming that is the plan, seems like a move that in principal could have wide-ranging impact across the whole security spectrum.

Non-security companies buying security companies is nothing new, of course. EMC bought RSA in 2006, and on the same day as the Intel announcement, HP bought application security specialist Fortify Software. The difference, for the most part though, is that previous acquisitions in the field have tended toward a more obvious fit - EMC uses RSA's encryption to secure data stored on its systems; Fortify Software sits in a very specific niche, which will add another arm to HP's services offerings.

With Intel and McAfee, its hard to see how there will be any initial gains from the deal, and how exactly Intel plans to use McAfee's expertise in the long run. McAfee will continue to operate as a wholly-owned subsidiary, which will provide continuity to its customers, but in the long run, Intel and McAfee presumably will need to create some fundamental changes in the way security is brought to the table. Intel has a huge R&D spend, and a depth of expertise that not many companies can match, but it is still likely to be a very big task to bring software execution to processor hardware, particularly around areas like frequency of updates. How much security can be done ‘on the chip' and whether that aim is technically achievable, remains to be seen.

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