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Monday, 23 November 2020 07:48

New Microsoft chip will come with added costs, says ex-NSA hacker Featured

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Jake Williams: "This is an interesting design, but it is most likely to be impactful against hardware-only attacks." Jake Williams: "This is an interesting design, but it is most likely to be impactful against hardware-only attacks." Supplied

Microsoft's new security chip, announced last week, will have an impact on hardware-only attacks, an American security professional says, adding that it could also assist in firmware security, but would result in added costs.

Jake Williams, a former member of the NSA's elite Tailored Access Operations Unit, told iTWire in response to queries that the chip was unlikely to provide any protection against ransomware.

Ransomware is the major scourge that affects Windows systems these days, with the attackers who use this genre of malware hitting bigger and bigger targets with each passing month and apparently unafraid to expand their operations.

When the Microsoft Pluton security processor was announced, the company's director of Enterprise and OS Security, David Weston, said in a blog post: "Windows PCs using the Pluton architecture will first emulate a TPM that works with the existing TPM specifications and APIs, which will allow customers to immediately benefit from enhanced security for Windows features that rely on TPMs like BitLocker and System Guard."

Said Williams: "This is an interesting design, but it is most likely to be impactful against hardware-only attacks. Excepting some extremely contrived scenarios, the chip is unlikely to provide any protection against ransomware.

"Beyond hardware-specific attacks, this also should assist in firmware security which is inherently a difficult thing. In most hardware designs, to learn anything about the firmware that's loaded, you have to ask the firmware itself. It should be obvious why this is less than an ideal situation.

"So really, the two areas this is targeting are hardware modification attacks (think supply chain), and firmware modification attacks, which may also happen via supply chain attack."

Williams, who now runs an independent security outfit known as Rendition Infosec, said an important question to be asked was why someone would pay more to implement this new security device.

"I mean, I guess anyone seriously concerned with supply chain attacks is the answer for who cares, but maybe the better question is will they find enough value proposition for what will undoubtedly be an increased cost," he added.

Microsoft has not given any date for introducing the new processor.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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