Intel plans to embed a personal identification number in future PC chips in a move designed to provide users with greater security on the Internet, a company spokesperson said today.
Intel said the development will foster the growth of electronic commerce and other Internet-based transactions, but its plans have raised the hackles of privacy and civil rights groups who say the unique identifiers may also lead to an erosion of privacy for users.
Intel's plan calls for it to include a unique serial number and a "random number generator" in each of its forthcoming Pentium III processors, which are expected to be released in March. The technology will be introduced in all Intel's PC chips over time, Intel spokesperson Seth Walker said.
The random number generator will work in conjunction with PC encryption software to scramble messages as they are transmitted over the Internet. Current encryption software contains number generators, but because they are software-based they are more susceptible to computer hackers.
Intel's technology uses thermal noise generated by a PC to generate numbers, making them truly random and unpredictable, Walker said.
The ID numbers, meanwhile, will allow online stores as well as banks and healthcare providers to verify that the person they are dealing with is in fact who he or she claims to be. The ID numbers could also help protect against computer theft, because the ID number will enable them to be tracked if they are used on the Internet, Walker said.
"For e-commerce to grow, for Internet business to grow, transactions have to be more secure than today. To do that you have to enable those security applications in hardware as well as in software," Walker said.
Intel is quick to point out that the ID number can be disabled by users who choose to do so, using a feature in the PC's operating system software. When a PC is sold, its default setting will have the serial number switched on.