Intel-McAfee: Time for Hardware-based Anti-virus?
I’m not a soothsayer by any means, and I’m not exactly a hardware designer. But when I heard about Intel buying McAfee, I instantly wondered if we’d see a shift from software- to hardware-level anti-virus and embedded security. Think I’m crazy? Maybe. But read on and decide for yourself…
You might be wondering, “What’s the point of hardware anti-virus?” and that would be a very good question to start on. First, I’d point you to an article last year showing how now even the BIOS is susceptible to viruses. Yes, yes, I know. It’s more proof-of-concept, and very rare. It’s also something that wouldn’t effect computers using EFI (like Macs). But it’s worth thinking about.
But what if the anti-virus on the hardware wasn’t so much about making sure the BIOS was safe, and was more about checking for signatures of data while it zoomed through the IDE or SATA port? What if you built the anti-virus into the mother board? We already have a dedicated chip for graphics and sound, why not a dedicated chip for anti-virus? It would ease up on the CPU usage that traditional anti-virus software uses, and it would also make it harder for the software to be compromised if it became firmware on a chip. Heck, it could even make sure other hardware’s firmware didn’t get compromised either.
Think about it: Install Windows, boot up, a driver gets loaded for the anti-virus chip, and suddenly you’re doing your boot-up scan without it bogging down the rest of what the CPU has to do to load up the OS. What’s more, a simple cross-platform driver could make anti-virus OS agnostic.
Some may see this move as a shift to nabbing anti-virus and security capabilities live on the Internet and in the mobile market, but don’t underestimate the power of what a physical computer chip can do. We’ve been so bogged down with handsets and the cloud, we forget that big, real chunks of silicon are just as important too.