Intel trying to bring security down to hardware level

by CXOtoday Staff    Aug 20, 2010

Intel acquires McAfeeIntel’s acquisition of security solutions provider - McAfee, may have been a bolt from the blue, but analysts see a deeper strategy behind the move. Graham Titterington, principal analyst for Ovum feels the acquisition was part of a larger strategy to enhance Intel’s security capabilities. “The active involvement of a company with the influence and resources of Intel in the information security arena will have a major impact on the future of computing. McAfee’s products extend beyond IT security into governance and aspects of systems management, and so this acquisition will increase Intel’s exposure to the CO level executives in the world’s largest organizations,” said Titterington.

Though acquisition of security organizations by large IT companies is not new, what comes as a surprise is that Intel has always been more focused on hardware. Titterington said this was an indication that Intel‘s objective is to bring security down to the silicon level.

Leslie Fiering, research VP at Gartner concurs with this viewpoint. She cites recent acquisitions by Intel of tenCube and TrustDigital as examples of Intel’s growing interest in security. “The goal is to collect and develop IP that can go directly to silicon and bring security down to the hardware level. The embedded security will run outside the OS with a broad variety of software developer hooks. It is highly unlikely that that Intel will make any of these proprietary or in any way specific to McAfee,” Fiering wrote in a blog posting yesterday.

On the other hand, Kapil Dev Singh, strategic business advisor, IDC India, is more sceptical. “The acquisition raises a few questions - (a) Is the acquisition worth developing a position, whose time is yet to come?, (b) Does it indicate the failure of Intel’s attempts at developing embedded software in-house, a strategic stance adopted some years ago? and (c) If the acquisition is to create an embedded security software offering, what is distinct competitive advantage in the short run? This objective could have been better met through a joint development,” he said.

Also, there is a risk that monopolistic concerns might damage the market, says Titterington. He compares the scenario with the one in 2002, when Microsoft, in conjunction with Intel, proposed a secure computing platform under the auspices of the Trusted Computing Platform Alliance, and Microsoft’s Palladium project.

“Competitive concerns largely stifled this vision which got scaled back to some encryption features that we see today in Windows 7. Effective security has to work at the platform, network, and business levels and a secure chip cannot address all of these by itself,” he said.