Intel hopes McAfee security features will differentiate mobile chips

Security threats to mobile devices are on the rise

Intel hopes security features from McAfee will help the company differentiate its mobile chips from its rivals', according to Intel's software chief Renee James.

The security threats posed to handheld devices are escalating, and chip security features enhances mobile devices' ability to block malware, said James, who is senior vice president and general manager of the Software and Services Group at Intel.

"It will become if not the most important, a significant differentiator for our silicon. It will be very obvious in phones," James said in an interview.

Intel last year completed the US$7.68 billion acquisition of security vendor McAfee, and the chip maker has been vocal about bringing the security features offered by McAfee closer to its chips. Intel has already detailed a technology called Deep Safe, in which hooks on Intel's chips allow McAfee's malware protection software to better identify and block threats such as rootkits. DeepSafe can analyze stealth behavior of potential malware on a computer, but also block incoming malware at the hardware level before it hits the computer. The company is implementing Deep Safe on PCs, and is also bringing it to server chips.

McAfee has services that work with other processors, but bringing it to the hardware layer provides additional protection to secure devices, James said.

"We can hardcode the service directly to our silicon," James said. "When it's an Intel processor we can actually do specific middleware extensions that connect to their service that just activate the hardware."

The effort is not as complicated either, James said.

"It's just that you wouldn't do that level of integration with a third party because you have to expose internal microprocessor information that we don't expose to third parties," James said.

Intel also hopes to deploy some other McAfee assets such as whitelisting to secure devices based on Intel's chips.

"We're able to know if something's a known good machine," James said.

James also said that Intel is providing the tools for PC makers to deploy customized app stores for Windows 8 on ultrabooks. PC makers will be able to deploy a customized version of Intel's AppUp store with their own name on tiles in the Windows 8 user interface.

"Microsoft is working on new apps, and we are working hard to ensure touch works on desktop apps because a lot of people are going to want to use that," James said.

The upcoming Windows 8 will work on tablets and laptops. Many ultrabooks have already been introduced with touchscreens.

The Microsoft rules do not allow company-specific enhancements in their store, but PC makers can turn to Intel. Intel already offers the AppUp store for Windows 7.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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