Intel Plus McAfee Equals ... Huh? - InformationWeek

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8/22/2010
08:33 PM
Dave Methvin
Dave Methvin
Commentary
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Intel Plus McAfee Equals ... Huh?

We all know Intel for the processors that drove Windows to its world domination, but lately the company has been having problems in downsizing its hardware technology for the red-hot mobile market. With its bid to buy McAfee, Intel seems to be trying to expand outside its core competencies. I can't see how this will turn out well.

We all know Intel for the processors that drove Windows to its world domination, but lately the company has been having problems in downsizing its hardware technology for the red-hot mobile market. With its bid to buy McAfee, Intel seems to be trying to expand outside its core competencies. I can't see how this will turn out well.McAfee is certainly one of the leaders in desktop security, but the industry has not established a great record. Basically, most of the products don't work very well when tested by independent research. On the other side, security software sometimes causes its own issues. Four months ago a McAfee update killed Windows by deleting critical system files.

What value does Intel, a component maker, bring to this partnership? Since Intel makes CPUs, some have speculated that the company will try to move some security functions into hardware. Yet it would be very difficult to do anything related to security without the cooperation and full knowledge of the operating system. No matter what features are in the chips, they only matter if the software can use them effectively.

Good security needs to be built into the operating system. Microsoft has spent the past decade retrofitting Windows so that it would have better built-in security. They've made so many improvements that widely distributed third-party software such as Adobe Reader has become a primary vector for malware. In response, Microsoft has added features such as ASLR to Windows as a defense against exploits of third-party software.

To be sure, there are some things that the security industry has done very well: push product. Just about every consumer PC sold has a major security suite installed in short-fuse mode. To prove its worth to consumers, it flashes various dialogs and icons to show that it's constantly on guard. Then comes paying time, and the suite makes the push for users to renew. Unfortunately for consumers, scamware security programs that look similar to the big name brands are using the very same pitch. How are users to know what is real and what is a scam?

The Windows ecosystem has been dealing with spread-on security since its inception, epitomized by the security market leaders. Intel's bid has already started speculation about how long it will be before someone snaps up McAfee's major competitor, Symantec. But nobody seems to be talking about how the whole PC security industry is ineffective at performing its primary duty. Intel isn't likely to help that.

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