Intel motherboard gets a box of secrets

The Trusted Platform Module, a hardware component designed to store encrypted keys to sensitive information, is reminiscent of Microsoft's Palladium - although Intel denies any connection

Intel will launch a new motherboard this week containing a Trusted Platform Module (TPM), which is an electronic safe that can store encrypted keys to sensitive documents and personal information.

The TPM is an addition to the standard motherboard, and consists of a chip and keys that encrypt and decrypt files on the fly. In order to access the documents, client-side software prompts the user for a password. Once authenticated, the user can send files or store them onto the computer's hard drive. Files cannot be accessed while in an encrypted state.

In order to ensure sensitive data cannot be accessed after it is saved, the client software uses a wiping tool to ensure all traces of the file are deleted from the hard drive and data is not sent to the recycle bin.

Mark Atkinson, technical marketing manager at Intel, told ZDNet UK that the TPM will add around $5 (£2.96) to the cost of a motherboard and is designed for both small businesses and corporate users.

The TPM has the ability to store passwords and other personal keys in a manner that is far more secure than is possible with Windows XP, Intel argues. Atkinson said: "All this information is kept in the TPM so it is unfeasible to decrypt it. In Windows XP, passwords are stored in the registry and can easily be accessed and read."

Atkinson admits the TPM is not a nirvana for security, but he thinks it is a step in the right direction -- and has the bonus of not costing much. "It is like driving a car and then putting on your seatbelt. The next step will be the equivalent of six air bags," he said.

One disadvantage: in case of motherboard failure, information on the TPM cannot be accessed unless the chip in the TPM module is transferred to another TPM motherboard. There is an option to back-up the contents of the TPM, but the back-up copy will not be encrypted.

Atkinson was keen to point out that this has nothing to do with digital rights management (DRM), which is a controversial technology designed to protect copyrighted material, but should be seen only as an electronic safe. "If you are a games company and want to keep your software safe from hackers, you could use this system," he added.

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