With help from Intel, McAfee links security to the chip

DeepSafe offers a glimpse at future Intel-McAfee security products

Nearly seven months after Intel shelled out $US7.68 billion for antivirus vendor McAfee, the two companies are offering a glimpse of their future.

At the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco Tuesday, McAfee will provide an early look of its new effort to build security protections outside of the OS, using Intel's chip-level hooks that allow McAfee's Endpoint Protection Software to get a better look at malicious software such as rootkits.

Called DeepSafe, the software is something new for the antivirus industry, said Candace Worley, senior vice president and general manager of McAfee Endpoint Security. "This level of technology has never existed before," she said. "It's brand new; it's been jointly developed between the two companies."

DeepSafe is McAfee's answer to advanced hacking technologies, such as rootkits, that seem to be getting better and better at slipping malicious software onto PCs unnoticed.

"Most antivirus products today reside at the same level in the system as the operating system," Worley said. "What we're finding is a lot of the antivirus is simply not seeing a rootkit that's installed at that level of the system."

Rootkits use all kinds of sneaky tricks to cover their tracks, rewriting file names, and even modifying data in system monitoring tools so that everything seems normal.

In fact, it's somewhat of an open secret in the security industry that determined cyberattackers can skirt antivirus detection almost at will. Some victims go years without detecting so-called advanced persistent threat (APT) infections, even with their antivirus software up-to-date.

That's left vendors such as McAfee scrambling to make things harder for the bad guys

Worley describes DeepSafe as a "technology foundation," for future products. The first of these products will be an add-on to McAfee Endpoint Protection that will focus on rootkit detection for the enterprise. That's who's most interested in this kind of technology right now, Worley said. The product, yet unnamed, will be launched at McAfee's Focus conference in Las Vegas next month, "and as time progresses we will migrate this to the consumer space," she said.

McAfee was vague about how DeepSafe will actually work, but the company started working on the technology prior to the Intel acquisition, Worley said.

The product will work in VMware installations, but Microsoft and Citrix customers will have to wait a bit longer. "We're still working out how this system will work with those technologies over time," Worley said.

Although McAfee will be the first major antivirus vendor out of the gate with this type of technology, it isn't the only company going in this direction, said Lawrence Pingree, a Gartner research director. "What's going to happen is they're going to release this and then others are going to follow suit," he said.

DeepSafe is interesting, but it still isn't the kind of breakthrough technology that will justify McAfee's multibillion dollar price tag. "We're still waiting for real hard technology to come out of this merger that will really be a big innovation," he said.

Robert McMillan covers computer security and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Robert on Twitter at @bobmcmillan. Robert's e-mail address is robert_mcmillan@idg.com

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