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Wednesday, 18 November 2020 09:03

Microsoft announces new security chip, but techies are suspicious Featured

Microsoft announces new security chip, but techies are suspicious Courtesy Microsoft

Microsoft has announced a new chip designed in collaboration with Intel, AMD, and Qualcomm that it says will add security to future Windows PCs.

Named Microsoft Pluton security processor, the device is claimed to remove the potential for attacks between the CPU and the Trusted Platform Module through a communication channel by building security directly into the CPU.

"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," Microsoft's director of Enterprise and OS Security David Weston said in a blog post on Tuesday.

"Windows devices with Pluton will use the Pluton security processor to protect credentials, user identities, encryption keys, and personal data. None of this information can be removed from Pluton even if an attacker has installed malware or has complete physical possession of the PC."

But the fact that hackers harbour a deep suspicion of Microsoft was illustrated in reactions to the announcement on Twitter.

"After Microsoft's collaboration with the NSA on PRISM to illegally spy on everyone, I have serious trust issues with them putting a "security"; chip in my computer that can report what my CPU is doing. It sounds wonderful in theory, but the dystopian vibes I am getting are strong," said one poster, Thomas Ferrum.

Another, with the handle Kowalski, echoed this distrust by tweeting: "Oh yes, security by obscurity? Another Intel management engine/SGX? Closed source blobs?"

And a third, Decker Mage, said: "Looks like an ideal way to implement DRM locking to a particular processor. Hard pass."

After numerous people had inquired whether this would be another attempt by Microsoft to lock out its competitors' operating systems, Weston was forced to respond, confirming: "Yes - it can work with other clouds and OS."

In his blog post, Weston said the Pluton security model was "accomplished by storing sensitive data like encryption keys securely within the Pluton processor, which is isolated from the rest of the system, helping to ensure that emerging attack techniques, like speculative execution, cannot access key material".

"Pluton also provides the unique Secure Hardware Cryptography Key (SHACK) technology that helps ensure keys are never exposed outside of the protected hardware, even to the Pluton firmware itself, providing an unprecedented level of security for Windows customers."

Weston said another major security problem that would be solved by Pluton was keeping system firmware across the whole PC ecosystem.

"Today customers receive updates to their security firmware from a variety of different sources than can be difficult to manage, resulting in widespread patching issues," he said.

"Pluton provides a flexible, updateable platform for running firmware that implements end-to-end security functionality authored, maintained, and updated by Microsoft. Pluton for Windows computers will be integrated with the Windows Update process in the same way that the Azure Sphere Security Service connects to IoT devices."

He did not give any indication as to when the technology would be implemented and available for use.

chip to cloud security

Graphic courtesy Microsoft

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Sam Varghese

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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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