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Intel's McAfee deal to put security in the cloud

Hardware and software cloud security on the way

Intel says it will use assets acquired from McAfee to provide cloud security services to protect the growing number of mobile devices that face malware and cyber attack threats.

Intel will first offer security products through software and services and later offer security features via hardware, with a heavy focus on providing cloud security services, said Renee James, senior vice- president and general manager at Intel's Software and Services Group, on a financial analyst call.

Mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones are increasingly vulnerable to malware and cyberattacks, James said. Intel wants to design security management capabilities into hardware that activate features on mobile devices to communicate in real time with cloud-based consoles and provide security capabilities such as tackling malware, authenticating users and verifying IP (Internet Protocol) addresses or websites, James said.

"In the long term security will be a differentiator for mobile devices," James said. "The cloud piece is a high-order bit. You can't wake up and build it."

Finding synergy

Intel announced in August last year that it would acquire McAfee for $7.68bn, a move that surprised many analysts because of the apparent lack of synergy. But Intel said it wanted to bring security capabilities to a number of its products including the low-power Atom chips, which are used in laptops, and eventually smartphones and tablets. The McAfee acquisition was completed two weeks ago.

McAfee already offers mobile- and cloud-based security products. Prior to acquisition, the company also offered manageability and security for Intel's Wind River embedded OS.

Intel says security is the third pillar of its offerings, in addition to power efficiency and connectivity. The company already has some chip-based features to enhance PC security such as VT, which is hardware-based technology to secure and manage virtualised environments. Over time Intel will "evolve" features on silicon to enable specialised software and services and bring more protection to a variety of devices, James said.

Intel could use the cloud subscription model to generate security revenue, said Dave DeWalt, president of McAfee, now a part of Intel. A remote management console could be a security reference point to not only mobile devices, but also printers, ATMs, point-of-sale kiosks or connected devices within a 'smart' grid, DeWalt said.

Malware is usually stored in the software; since it's difficult for hackers to get under the OS level, security needs to be incorporated inside the hardware, DeWalt said. There are 48 million types of malware in the wild, he added.

Certain specialised security software and services could be enabled through the hardware built inside chips, Intel's James said. That could provide another source of revenue for Intel, but there are still questions about whether people would pay for such hardware.

"We hope so," James said.

Most smartphones and tablets use ARM processors and OSes such as Google's Android and Apple's iOS. Intel is still making its entry in this market, and ARM's dominance could be a barrier. James said that from a software perspective Intel will remain a multiplatform company. As a semiconductor maker, OS fragmentation is not an issue for the company as its x86 chips can run most mobile OSes, James said.

Intel earlier this year made another move to boost its security offerings by acquiring Nordic Edge, a Swedish security company known for its security management and threat intelligence products.


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