What TPMs Can Offer

By John G. Spooner  |  Posted 2005-08-11 Print this article Print

Consumers"> TPMs have only been offered in business PC models to date. However, industry observers predict that they will also migrate to consumer PC models in the near future as module prices come down and software takes better advantage of the technology. Module costs are indeed coming down, thanks to integration. Although many still come as stand-alone chips, modules are being added to chips used in network interface cards and for other functions, making the modules easier to drop into PCs.
Gateway and HP, for example, use a BroadCom Corp. network card, which incorporates a TPM module following the TCPs TPM 1.2 specification.
Lenovo uses a TPM module thats built into a Super I/O chip from National Semiconductor Inc. Endpoints Kay predicts that the majority of TPM modules added to PCs will be integrated into other components. Eventually, he said, Intel will likely add a TPM module directly to one of its chip sets, which are the equivalent of a PCs nervous system. The biggest barrier to fully adopting the modules for groups such as consumers and small businesses wont be cost, however, but ease of use. The ability to interact with TPMs via software must be improved, observers say. "There will be a time when not only Gateway, but the industry at large starts to integrate this kind of functionality into a consumer platform," Gateways Deihl said. "But if you look at the software, were not there as an industry." Describing todays software as "cryptic at best," Deihl added that Gateway has been working with third parties to foster easier interfaces. The PC maker plans to bolster its TPM hardware with new software later this year. But Deihl said he expects that Windows Vistas TPM support will also lend improvements. The forthcoming operating system, due in the third quarter of 2006, will support the use of a TPM chip which supports the TCGs TPM 1.2 specification for functions such as storing encryption keys if one is present in a PC, Microsoft has said. Windows Vista will also deliver "secure startup" by using a TPM to lock down its hardware and software. "Having Microsoft do the usual integration of the enabling pieces will help us quite a bit," Deihl said. Ease of use is also a top priority among numerous other companies that are working on TPM software. Lenovo, in one example, plans to roll out an easier-to-use software suite for its TPM module in August. The application, Lenovos Client Security Solution Version 6.0, focuses on making it easier to set up TPM-assisted security, including file encryption, password management and the ability to work with accessories such as Lenovos fingerprint reader, said Clain Anderson, Lenovos program director for wireless security. "Particularly, were aiming at small business with this—folks that dont have a huge IT staff and can turn this on and get productive immediately," he said. Popular perception of TPM modules and their potential uses could be another potential hurdle, observers say. Although TPM modules have been associated with DRM or digital rights management, a controversial concept that some people view as companies trying to control how they use certain applications or data on their PCs, Berger said TPMs were was not created to assist DRM. Instead, TCG envisions TPMs use among consumers as being to assist with passwords, encrypt sensitive personal files and help protect eCommerce transactions. "We are not and never have been … interested in doing DRM, and we dont have anything that would give people a complete solution to do that," Berger said. While a TPM could technically be used to assist in a given DRM setup, "Its not physically or technologically possible using just a TPM," he said. Regardless of public perceptions, TPM-equipped consumer PCs could show up as soon as the end of this year, Anderson predicted. "I think [the TPM] will end up just being there—itll be cheaper to include it than to not. Its [cost is] almost nothing, so … why not?" he said. "All the buzz in Taiwan [where a huge portion of the computer parts industry is located] is, Youve got to have a TPM. When I heard that start happening, I knew wed gone ubiquitous." Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest security news, reviews and analysis. And for insights on security coverage around the Web, take a look at eWEEK.com Security Center Editor Larry Seltzers Weblog.

John G. Spooner John G. Spooner, a senior writer for eWeek, chronicles the PC industry, in addition to covering semiconductors and, on occasion, automotive technology. Prior to joining eWeek in 2005, Mr. Spooner spent more than four years as a staff writer for CNET News.com, where he covered computer hardware. He has also worked as a staff writer for ZDNET News.

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