Why HP Has Taken the PC Security Lead

PRODUCT ANALYSIS: In its new PCs, HPI has blended elements that are typically focused on consumers, such as Apple-like designs, with features that normally target only corporate users—such as security—across their lines.

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Hewlett-Packard Inc. has the world's leading security feature for personal computers at the moment.

That was my conclusion based on this week’s announcement from the Innovation Summit in Barcelona (I was there) of updates to its market-leading Sure View and the announcement of Sure Sense. What makes HPI different from its peers is that it is not only nearly a pure-play PC vendor (its other major line is printers), it also sells to both consumer and commercial companies at scale.

The competitors in its class are either far more diverse than it is or are mostly just consumer-focused. HPI also has taken something we all should know—that consumers and business users are the same people—and put it into a strategy called One Life. This has allowed it to blend elements that are typically focused on consumers, such as Apple-like designs, with features that normally target only corporate users—such as security—across its lines, so you don’t have to make what historically has been an ugly choice.

That choice is between a product that you need and one that you want.   

This week’s announcements had two elements that I found interesting: One is that the company improved its screen security technology, Sure View, significantly. HPI also is the first to announce a bundled deep learning security solution, which is an industry game changer.

Let’s talk about both this week.

Sure View 3

Now I’m a fan of Sure View and am surprised that HP remains the only vendor currently offering an electronic screen security solution. The reason this kind of technology is important is that anyone sitting or standing next to you can see what you are writing. If you are bored on a plane, you can entertain yourself by watching whatever your neighbor is doing, and a lot of that is often confidential correspondence. A simple lapel camera and an effort to get a seat next to an executive could result in a wealth of otherwise proprietary information.

We currently have state-level players looking for ways to access or get knowledge of confidential information with a focus on passwords and IDs, making the risks substantially higher these days. This is on top of the fact a lot of the popular movies we might watch on a plane may be inappropriate for the kids—or even adults—sitting next to us.

Sure View restricts the image you are seeing to you. People on the side see a blank screen—historically an annoying white screen. Now the tradeoff is that the screen does both pull more power and dim in this mode, so you can’t default it on. But a simple push of a function key toggles it so that when you need screen brightness and/or longer battery life, you can instantly turn it off.

Now we do have things like the 3M security filter that you can tape on your laptop’s screen, but that is far from elegant and makes your nice-looking PC look like crap, not to mention it significantly reduces screen brightness, doesn’t store well and is kind of a pain to take on and off.

Sure View 3 reduces the power draw and, instead of the person next to you seeing an annoying bright white screen (which I agree is problematic if they want to sleep), they get a far more pleasant black screen. So, the result is less of a power impact and a far lower likelihood that your neighbor on a plane is going to be annoyed with you (which after a few in-flight drinks can become an issue).

Sure Sense

Sure Sense is a far bigger deal. Deep learning, regardless of where it is implemented, is a game changer. This technology allows a computer to train itself at computer speeds. Before this, the strongest anti-malware products were those that used machine-learning AIs, which allow responses at computer speeds but still require humans to train them. The advantages to deep learning are that the identification of as yet-unknown threats is far sooner, you don’t have to update the product as often (typically a couple times a year), and the effectiveness of the program is far better.  

I’ve seen head-to-head comparisons of this with other products, and there really is no comparison. But, in addition, given that this is an AI inference engine (the heavy lifting is done centrally with training and not on the PC), you can layer this with other security products. The Windows 10 built-in Security Essentials component is actually pretty good, and with both offerings operating, you should have the best coverage possible.

Wrapping Up: When Security Is the Battlefield, We All Win

Given the hostile world we live in, security trumps performance as a reason to pick a vendor. A broken or slow PC is bad; a breach is a career and company killer. The more the PC vendors compete on who can provide the best security, the safer we all are. So I not only applaud HP’s efforts here, I’ll applaud Dell’s and Lenovo’s efforts to do this even better, and they are all chasing each other to be the best.

With this announcement, I’d place HP in the lead with dedicated PC security, but the real benefit is this will cause all of the major companies to focus more on this feature set, and the result will be that we’ll all be more secure. And we all need to be more secure.

Rob Enderle is a principal at Enderle Group. He is an award-winning analyst and a longtime contributor to QuinStreet publications and Pund-IT.