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Intel and McAfee clarify embedded security plans

Mar 16, 2011 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — views

Two weeks after Intel acquired security software firm McAfee, executives from both companies talked to analysts about how their combined patent portfolio will let them secure embedded and mobile devices from malware at the hardware level. First up will be “McAfee for Wind River” product, expected to be based on Wind River Linux.

An Intel exec told an audience of analysts the chipmaker will use assets acquired from McAfee to build security features right into chips for embedded devices. The companies will also provide cloud security services for mobile devices.

Intel had signaled the embedded security focus of its McAfee acquisition when it announced it was acquiring the security firm in August of last year. On Mar. 15, two weeks after closing the McAfee acquisition, Intel clarified the rationale behind the $7.7 billion deal in a conference call with Wall Street analysts. 

Renee James (pictured), an Intel senior vice-president and general manager of the Software and Services group, and Dave DeWalt, president of the wholly-owned but independent McAfee subsidiary, discussed how McAfee's products and systems would protect mobile devices and embedded applications from cyber-attacks.

"Malware is blowing off the charts," explained DeWalt. "I've never seen anything like it. And on top of this, the number of devices is exploding."

DeWalt and James explained how Intel wants to build security management capabilities directly into hardware that would allow mobile and other endpoint devices to communicate in real-time with cloud-based services. According to James, the services will provide up-to-date protection for the devices including detecting and blocking malware, authenticating users, and verifying IP addresses and web-sites.

Intel could have bought smaller companies to build up its security business and spent less, but realized very quickly the company needed both security software and a complete service platform, James continued. McAfee already had a security service cloud that it had been working on for five years in addition to security software, she said. It would have taken Intel far too much time and a lot of money to replicate what McAfee had already done, she added.

McAfee will be extending security capabilities and visibility into small embedded devices that can be used by attackers to gain access into enterprise networks such as laptops, smartphones, and tablets, DeWalt said. Intel can develop embedded computers for printers, televisions, and cars, and bake security right into the device, he added. He also noted the security needs of nuclear power plants.

McAfee for Wind River

McAfee says it will work closely with Intel's Wind River subsidiary, which makes Linux and VxWorks operating system software for a variety of embedded devices. Prior to the McAfee acquisition in February, McAfee and Wind River announced they would jointly develop security solutions for mobile and other embedded devices. The companies offered few details at the time, but said the strategic agreement would initially focus on software related to Wind River Linux.

Now DeWalt says that his company is set to roll out a "McAfee for Wind River" solution at the end of the month. "We can bake security directly into the OS, directly with manufacturers," DeWalt said.

The plan is to provide more security-assisting features on Intel's future chips that help speed up and improve McAfee software performance. Instead of running security as a layer on top of the operating system, Intel wants to push it down below, DeWalt said.

The company already has chip-based features, such as VT, which secures and manages virtualized environments, James said. "The further you move security down the stack, the more visibility of the architecture you get," DeWalt added.

By expanding McAfee's ePolicy Orchestrator framework, businesses can remotely manage laptops and other endpoint devices with Intel vPro technology, such as accessing the device, decrypting or encrypting the data, and applying patches, according to DeWalt. "Now we can give one pane of glass to view all these devices on the network," he added.

More than just an anti-virus vendor

McAfee may have been just an anti-virus software vendor five years ago, but since then has expanded into firewalls, intrusion prevention, servers, storage, and endpoint security for mobile devices, DeWalt said. The mobile security products are either embedded in the device or sold by cellular phone carriers, and provide features such as remote wipe, encryption and location awareness, he added.

Even though McAfee has been in the mobile security market for only five months, in the fourth quarter of 2010 it added 1.25 million users, DeWalt said. Another 246 enterprises have deployed McAfee software on mobile devices and internal networks, including the United States government, he said.

With an installed base of over 300 million endpoints, McAfee products can track what is happening in real-time on endpoints by processing messages and sending information back to the company's back-end security systems for analysis, DeWalt said.

Intel has acquired over 20 software companies over the past three years, retaining more than 90 percent of the employees, while gaining access to valuable intellectual property, James said.

Examples included WindRiver, which gave Intel a broad and deep access to the embedded systems market, said James. She also mentioned Havok, a gaming company, whose engineers were said to be "instrumental" in designing the feature set for Sandy Bridge chips. Intel plans to make more security acquisitions, and future acquisition will be managed by DeWalt, James said.

"People will pay for security," James said, noting that it's not a PC/embedded issue. "It's an enterprise, PC, handset/mobile, embedded across the board," she said.

Fahmida Rashid is a writer for our sister publication eWEEK.

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