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McAfee provides ‘vision,’ but few details on Intel-specific security push

Jan 08, 20133 mins
Application SecurityIntelMcAfee

Gearing the product to work 100 percent only on Intel-based smartphones and tablets is a problem because few use the company's chips, one analyst notes

McAfee plans to release in midyear software it developed with parent company Intel that would secure personal data and provide online authentication across PCs, Macs, smartphones and tablets.

McAfee and Intel, which acquired the security vendor two years ago for $7.7 billion, announced the upcoming technology Monday at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). McAfee, which held invitation-only demonstrations of the beta product, provided no details on the software.

“For a security company, they are keeping the details pretty damn secure,” said Dan Olds, an analyst for the Gabriel Consulting Group.

In general, the McAfee technology would take advantage of antitheft, data encryption and other security features in Intel chips. All silicon-based technologies are available to other security vendors willing to license them from Intel.

McAfee is building on top of Intel-provided security to offer much more than what McAfee currently provides in it’s All Access product, which includes antivirus, hardware identification for home networks and a variety of other security features.  The product works across PCs, Macs and mobile devices.

“This is really taking All Access to a different level,” said Gary Davis, vice president of consumer marketing for McAfee. “Having the deep integration with Intel technology and affording new levels of benefits and services that we haven’t delivered before is really what this is all about.”

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The new technology is not meant to replace All Access, Davis said. The product will have it own brand and will be available through retailers and PC makers that agree to preload it on new systems. Only Intel-based devices will be able to take advantage of all the features in the new product.

The fact that the technology would only be 100 percent useful on Intel-based smartphones and tablets is a problem because very few of those devices use Intel processors, Olds said. Most run on ARM chips.

In place of details, Davis provided “visionary” statements on what the technology could do. For example, biometric technology in a PC could be used to authenticate the user and link that person to the hardware. Once that is done, a person could make purchases from online retailers that support the technology without having to sign in.

“Those are some of the aspirational type of items that we’re thinking about,” Davis said. “The intent is to get consumers to the point where just by doing what they do, they’re safe.”

The product will take advantage of Intel’s anti-theft technology for laptops that locks down a hard drive, so it can’t be accessed when a system is loss or stolen. McAfee already takes advantage of this hardware-assisted security in other products.

An example of what the new McAfee product could do is lock down a device’s hard drive or solid-state drive when the authenticated user steps away, Davis said.  

McAfee has released business products that tap into security embedded in Intel hardware. For example, Deep Defender is McAfee technology that sits between the processor and operating system to detect rootkits, hidden malware that’s often installed on the OS kernel or the Master Boot Record. Deep Defender is built on technology called DeepSAFE, developed jointly by McAfee and Intel.

Intel has said that it hopes security features from McAfee would help the chipmaker differentiate its mobile chips from ARM, which dominates the market for smartphones and tablets.