Researchers Chase Away Worms, Wi-Fi Bandits at Intel

Intel researchers say that even tiny steps can make huge improvements in computers and security.

SAN FRANCISCO—Intel researchers are envisioning a new way to de-worm PCs.

The computer chip giant here at its Intel Developer Forum on Thursday discussed technology designed to head off computer worms and virus attacks in PCs, by stopping the agents before they can begin to spread and attack other systems.

Generally, Intel Corp.s researchers are attacking a broad range of subjects, ranging from new microprocessor features such as advanced transistors to software and communications technologies, inside its various labs.

One effort, for example, is working on integrating radios into a broad range of chips, so as to create ad hoc networks.

Often, the labs projects, whose focuses range from between a year 15 years, become part of Intels products, including its processors and their enabling chip sets for PCs.

However, at other times, the company contributes technology the broader computer market through licensing or by contributing it to standards bodies.

Justin Rattner, director of Intel corporate technology, demonstrated several of the companys latest efforts, including Manageability Engine, hardware that serves to augment protective software by helping to quickly detect the beginnings of an infection in a PC and cut that machine off from the network before the worm can spread to other machines.

"The problem is worms and viruses propagate so quickly, that if youre not able to respond in manner of minutes the situation [gets] out of control," Rattner said during his Thursday IDF keynote address. Thus "Weve been working on technologies that will help systems protect themselves and not harm the environment around them."

The Manageability Engine essentially works by measuring activity associated with worms and viruses, such as the number of connections per second a PC is attempting to make to a computer network.

Because it looks for a pattern of behavior, it can recognize new attacks, which might not have been seen before.

Upon sensing worm-like activity, the engine can work with elements of a PCs operating system to respond, ensure protections are not circumvented and, if needed, break the network connection.

/zimages/3/28571.gifClick here to read more about Intel and Cisco teaming up to boost security.

"We think this is really exciting research," Rattner said. "If we can create systems with this kind of feature—the ability to do no harm, here in the sense of not spreading virus or worm to another system—the benefit to users will be enormous."

Rattner demonstrated the technology running on a network with 50 systems during the keynote speech.

The technology, which is still only running in Intels labs, could be added into future Intel hardware, such as a network connector.

Rattner, in his keynote address, also demonstrated:

  • The Diamond Project, with interactive data exploration for search. In the demonstration, a photo of Rattner was found from among 85,000 photos by searching on faces and then the color blue, which was the color of the shirt he was wearing in the photo.
  • Precision Location Technology, a Wi-Fi-specific technology that can help add security to wireless networks by triangulating where users are located. A user outside a given boundary, such as the walls of a home or a business, could be denied access.

Intel aims to lend the technology to the 802.11 standards body, Rattner said.

Meanwhile, there is "no fundamental reason couldnt be extended" to other wireless technologies as well, he told attendees at a post-keynote Q&A.

  • Finer power management, using a faster voltage regulator that shifts up and down in fractions of microseconds, saving wasted electricity.

Intels demonstration paired a processor, chip set and voltage regulator together on a daughter card, which could be added to notebooks fairly easily.

The company estimated the better voltage regulations could reduce power consumption by 15 percent to 30 percent compared to todays notebooks without affecting performance. Ultimately, the technology might be applied to a multicore processor to regulate power for their individual cores, Rattner said.

"Theres an example of technology working at a very deep level in the system in order to deliver user value at the top level," he said.

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