IBM fits PCs with new hardware-based security chip

IBM has begun using new security hardware from National Semiconductor in its desktop PCs in an effort to fend off viruses and hackers.

National Semiconductor's SafeKeeper Trusted I/O devices add to its existing chip design a "trusted platform module" (TPM), a microcontroller that stores passwords, digital certificates and encryption keys. The devices conform to the TPM specifications developed by the Trusted Computing Group, a 2-year-old standards body for hardware-based security technologies backed by IBM, Intel, Advanced Micro Devices, Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard.

The idea behind hardware-based security is that information stored in a PC's firmware is less vulnerable to attack than data protected only by software. TPM-stored data can, for instance, be used to authenticate a computer on a network, providing identity information in a way that's harder to forge.

National Semiconductor's desktop SafeKeeper device is priced at US$5 each for volume orders. Toward the end of the year, the company will release a notebook version expected to sell for US$7.

IBM, which has used TPMs in its PCs for the past five years, said the devices are being used in ThinkCentre models featuring its IBM Embedded Security Subsystem.

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