IBM Claims Chip Security Advance

The company claims to have devised a way to boost the security of chips targeted at portable computers and mobile phones.

John Walko, Contributor

April 10, 2006

2 Min Read

LONDON — IBM researchers have devised a way to boost the security of chips targeted at portable computers and mobile phones and the company is expected to reveal details of the technology Monday (April 10).

Dubbed SecureBlue, the encryption technology is said to be suitable for hard wiring into the core of any kind of processor, not just IBM’s. The company says the hardware solution is faster and more efficient than most existing software solutions and that it plans to license the technology to other semiconductor makers.

Software vendors such as PGP Corp. already offer software-based encryption for portable devices such as BlackBerrys.

The company has already built a prototype device based on its PowerPC processor that incorporates the encryption technology.

According to IBM, the Secure Blue technology is not simply a module that can be plugged into existing chips. It needs to be woven into a processor from scratch, mixed in with other transistors somewhat "like hamburger," in the description of Bernie Meyerson, chief technologist for IBM's systems group.

Initial details suggest SecureBlue will only require a few extra circuits to be added. The encryption and decryption will happen “on the fly”, without any major processor overhead, according to IBM.

Intel and AMD are also working on embedding encryption functions into their upcoming chips, such as Intel’s LaGrande and AMD’s Presidio, using the Trusted Platform Module technology. However, the IBM researchers claim they have developed a way to skip that step.

“More than half of enterprise data is not on the servers any more, it’s all over the place – on your Blackberry or your phone or laptop or with your business partners,” Charles Palmer, manager of security and privacy at IBM Research, told the Financial Times . “These devices are in harm’s way, but if they are subject to abuse or attack they will not yield their secrets if they have SecureBlue.”

Palmer suggested the technology could be used for Digital Rights Maintenance (DRM), for system management and for protecting the data held on mobile devices.

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