Intel serves 'poison pill' to lost or stolen Ultrabooks

New hardware-based encryption enabled in Ultrabooks to offer users greater peace of mind

Kill pill technology can be used to prevent unauthorised users from accessing an Ultrabook's data. The picture has nothing to do with that though, we just think it looks nice.

Kill pill technology can be used to prevent unauthorised users from accessing an Ultrabook's data. The picture has nothing to do with that though, we just think it looks nice.

Intel today announced one of the features that is likely to make Ultrabooks even more desirable: Intel Anti-Theft. Intel Anti-Theft is a service that can be used to lock down an Ultrabook in the event that it is lost or stolen, essentially disabling access to any data on that laptop. It works in conjunction with a central server and it is a hardware-based solution that marries a hard drive and its data to a particular platform.

To get the Intel Anti-Theft service, you must subscribe to it and Dick Smith Electronics will be the first store to offer subscriptions to the service in Australia. The subscriptions will be offered as a 'hard bundle' with new Ultrabooks bought before January 2012; Ultrabooks bought after this date will require a two-year subscription to be bought for $49.95 in order for the service to be usable.

When the service is enabled on an Ultrabook, it basically creates a partition on its hard drive that ties it to its hardware platform. Taking that drive out of the Ultrabook and putting in to another computer will not allow data on the drive to be accessed, and attempts to format the hard drive or even flash the BIOS will not be allowed. The laptop will remain locked until the user gets the computer back and unlocks it with their password.

The lockdown modes of the service are controlled by a central Intel Anti-Theft server. This server can be used in a couple of ways to lock down an Ultrabook. The most basic lockdown occurs when the user knows their Ultrabook has been lost or stolen and logs into the central server to send a kill pill. The next time the Ultrabook connects to the Internet and receives the kill pill, all the data on it becomes inaccessible.

The other way to set up the Anti-Theft service is to make the Ultrabook poll the central server at predetermined intervals. If the Ultrabook fails to poll the server, it locks down the data until it connects to the Internet and a successful poll is made. This basically means that the Ultrabook has to make contact with the Anti-Theft server to find out whether everything's okay, or if a kill pill has been sent to disable it. This also requires the user to enter their password.

Users can also tell the server to send messages to a lost or stolen laptop, which can be used to offer contact details or rewards for its return, for example. When a lost or stolen Ultrabook is retrieved, then its user can enter their credentials to unlock it. Intel claims that the technology is very secure and that it even has many Ultrabooks on its test benches that can not be unlocked.

Intel Anti-Theft hardware technology forms part of the Ultrabook specification (every Ultrabook must have it in order to be called an Ultrabook) and everyone who owns an Ultrabook will be able to use it. Intel will be working closely with software manufacturers to implement different solutions for this technology. One such solution will be tracking for Ultrabooks that have built-in GPS capabilities.

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Elias Plastiras
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