Intel Sets Sights on Security

The chipmaker eyes research and investments as ways to help boost a computer's ability to fight viruses and worms.

Intel Corp. is moving on multiple fronts to help keep businesses one step ahead of worms and viruses.

The chipmakers research arm has stepped up its security focus of late. Earlier this week, Intel researchers released to open source an early version of software called Autograph that helps to quickly identify Internet worms and curb their ability to spread.

Its Intel Capital arm, meanwhile, has invested in Grisoft, a security software maker based in Prague, Czech Republic.

Although on the surface the two moves appear separate—and Autograph as a technology is still in its early stages—theyre part of a broader focus on security at Intel, which has been renewed by the chipmakers recent shift to designing platforms around devices such as servers or desktop PCs.

Unlike when it sold chips individually, the platform design strategy has Intel creating add-ons, which include features such as virtualization and its Active Management Technology, which bolster server usability by allowing companies to divide them up to run different jobs or increase their manageability.

Building greater security into its platforms--by adding worm defeaters for example--is likely to be the next step as the increased efforts in research and investment could filter their way into Intel products or those of its close partners, including operating system and application vendors, or foster ideas from newcomers.

"This is important to Intel because when we went out and talked to people who use these platforms, the common problem we heard were viruses and worms were a huge challenge in productivity and cost to clean up," said Dylan Larson, network security initiatives manager at Intels Communications Technology Lab, a part of the chipmakers Corporate Technology Group.

"So we said, What kind of things can we do to address these challenges? That has driven a lot of the platform thinking, whether its VT (Intel Virtualization Technology) or active management, and how all those things work together," Larson said. "Weve had security expertise and lots of competency in this space for a long time. Now were looking at this even more from a platform level on how we can bring these things together to drive new value to customers."

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick here to read more about worm history.

Intels security focus will bring direct returns—the Corporate Technology Group is now working to help add more security to Intels various platforms, Larson said—but it can also work in other ways. It could, in another example, bolster the ecosystem, inside which Intel, computer markers, software makers and businesses all operate.

Intels Grisoft investment, in which it put up $16 million for a minority equity stake in the firm, has more of an indirect affect of ensuring greater availability of anti-virus software in Eastern Europe, for example.

"Were continuing to look for key technologies and areas that Intel can help accelerate the security ecosystem," said Chris Lawless, a senior investment manager at Intel Capital.

The chipmaker, which invested about $130 million worldwide over 110 deals in 2004, continues to look at other security companies, both inside and outside the U.S.—about 40 percent of its 2004 investments were international—that align with its interests.

"Were looking at Central Europe and Eastern Europe and looking at companies that can help us accelerate critical infrastructure there," Lawless said. "Certainly there are much more opportunities for us to sell our chips" in less saturated markets than the U.S.

Next Page: Worm detection gets more attention.