McAfee's 'Patmos' Platform To Provide Security To Silicon

A much-anticipated, security-infused chip might be a step closer to reality after a McAfee executive said in a public forum that a new platform enabling security-embedded silicon products is expected in the near future.

During a FOCUS conference in Melbourne, Australia Tuesday, George Kurtz, McAfee executive vice president and worldwide CTO, told his audience to expect products featuring a forthcoming Intel-McAfee platform designed to provide hardware-assisted security management, device integrity, identity, privacy and resilience, according to IT Wire .

The platform, which McAfee has code-named Patmos, will occupy a space between the CPU and the pluggable operating system interface, instead at the application layer, where security most often resides. Subsequently, essential security functions would eventually be transferred to the silicon hardware.

Kurtz maintained that McAfee was ’not going to put AV in a chip,’ but rather would shift increasingly more security functions to the hardware over the years.

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Kurtz added that McAfee planned to enable the activation of security functions in Intel’s chips via the ePolicy Orchestrator (ePO) management platform.

McAfee in recent weeks has suggested that such a product announcement would happen sooner rather than later.

Alex Thurber, senior vice president of commercial and SMB worldwide channels at McAfee, told CRN that impending Intel-McAfee product would ’a game changer," earlier this month during CRN’s Everything Channel Xchange Americas 2011 conference, but declined further comment.

Intel said it would reveal additional details about the product at its Intel Developer Forum in September.

One channel partner said that the impending product launch that promised to extend security to the silicon was exciting, but questioned how the integrated technology would facilitate profits for the reseller community.

’It’s logical that security be extended to the hardware. As a security guy, I think it’s pretty cool,’ said Andrew Plato, president of Beaverton, Ore.-based Anitian Enterprise Security. ’It’s on the hardware. All the Dells and HPs could have this new McAfee thing on the chip that does buffer overflow scans. But as a VAR, I probably won’t make a dime off of that.’

Plato said that the imminent shift to security-infused hardware could potentially have a negative impact on the channel community by further commoditizing security software that serves as the bread-and-butter for many resellers’ businesses.

’Smaller VARs, we don’t sell endpoint antivirus, because it’s a commodity. There’s no money in it,’ he said. ’The same principle applies here. The people in the channel who are going to benefit are the big volume movers. The smaller ones are probably going to lose.’

Meanwhile, the marriage of security and silicon seemed like an inevitable pairing following the $7.68 billion acquisition of McAfee by chip giant Intel Corp in August 2010.

On a conference call following the merger, Intel executives said that the McAfee acquisition allowed them to accelerate a product strategy that included ’hardware-enhanced security.’

Next: Intel CEO Otellini Promised New Ways To Address Security

Following the closing of the Intel-McAfee acquisition in February, Intel CEO Paul Otellini said during a conference call that the first integrated Intel products incorporating McAfee’s security technologies, anticipated later in 2011, would be developed with the intention of addressing security and increasingly complex cyber threats in an entirely new way.

Both organizations have maintained that current security solutions fail to adequately protect against increasingly sophisticated cyber threats and that a new approach is needed in order to secure the millions of new Internet-ready devices anticipated to be on the market.

Also in February, McAfee said it planned to team up with Alameda, Calif.-based Wind River in a collaborative effort that would put security into embedded and mobile devices. Wind River, which Intel acquired in 2009, specializes in developing operating systems, middleware and software design tools for embedded computing systems, along with an array of product design services and testing tools.

The Wind River-McAfee partnership aimed to develop solutions to manage and secure embedded devices, including a slew of mobile smart phones, tablets and other Web-controlled devices such as TVs, cars, medical devices and ATMs, as well as critical infrastructure.