Will First Intel-McAfee Product Be A Security Game-Changer?

"This new solution is a combination of enhanced software from McAfee and security instructions built into the hardware from Intel," Otellini said during Intel's second quarter earnings call last month.

On Friday at the XChange Americas conference, Alex Thurber, senior vice president of commercial and SMB worldwide channels at McAfee, told CRN the Intel-McAfee product "will be a game changer," but declined further comment.

Intel is planning to reveal additional details about the product at its Intel Developer Forum in September. In the meantime, analysts and partners are speculating about the potential impacts of security technology that's embedded in silicon.

Establishing an identity for the user of the chip is one likely goal of this product, according to Joshua Liberman, president of Net Sciences, an Albuquerque, N.M.-based solution provider.

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"Without the ability to establish identity you can't really prevent security breaches. All security really comes down to limiting anonymity. I can't see what McAfee has to offer Intel if it doesn't have to with identity," said Liberman.

Some security solution providers raise the possibility that an on-chip security solution could box out the competition and create an anti-competitive product.

"The only way Intel can realistically avoid competitive issues is to open up whatever this integration is to other security companies. I don’t imagine they are going to do that. At least not at first," said Andrew Plato, president of Anitian Enterprise Security, based in Beaverton, Ore.

IDC analyst Phil Hochmuth envisions a situation in which security products from third party vendors would run alongside the co-developed Intel/McAfee processor.

"I would be surprised if the things that they would integrate would hinder and break the way that Intel products integrate and work with other security companies," Hochmuth said. "I think the partnerships are pretty strong with Intel and other security vendors, in addition to McAfee. The security space is big enough for a lot of competitors."

Darrel Bowman, CEO of Tacoma, Wash.-based Symantec partner MyNetworkCompany.com, agrees with Hochmuth and thinks the new product from Intel won't box out competition, but rather, force it to adapt.

"It does mean we would have to change some things. We're adapting to the cloud now, and having to educate people on when they can and cannot integrate. We'll have to do that with this product too," Bowman said.

Bowman added that the solution will not solve all security problems, but will provide value if certain features are considered in the design. "It would be another tool in the tool belt. And the questions are how robust, how broad ranging and how flexible is that tool," he said.

The IT industry is waiting to see if security operating at a deeper level of the stack in the processor will lead to more effective protection.

"The product could be antivirus running as a chip level process, as opposed to something that runs on top of the operating system, or it might be the integration of some management technology or firewall security function at the chip layer itself to protect from buffer overflows or memory based attacks."

This approach represents a drastic change to the standard method of processor design. In addition to providing stronger security, the embedded approach would offer protection that's invisible to the end user, according to Hochmuth.

"Security in products has a long history of being slapped on at the end of the design process. Now Intel clearly wants to design security from phase one of product design. In a sense that will make it unlike a lot of products in the past, but I think the goal is to make the security unnoticeable," he said.