Intel: We won't track ID chips

Addressing privacy concerns, Intel Corp. stated Thursday it was being extremely careful in implementing its new processor ID number scheme.

The plan was announced Wednesday at the RSA Data Security conference in San Jose, and more details were given in a technology briefing here on Thursday. As part of its new initiative to create a connected world of trusted PCs, Intel has incorporated a number of security initiatives, including a random number generator and marking electronically every processor with a unique serial number.

"Our customers, application vendors and OEMs have been asking for [these serial numbers] for years," said Pat Gelsinger, vice president and general manager of Intel's desktop platform division. Yet, as reported by ZDNN early Wednesday, privacy advocates voiced reservations about the new technology. "The application is a double-edged sword," said Barry Steinhardt, associate director and privacy expert at the American Civil Liberties Union in an interview. "On the one hand, it offers more security -- for e-commerce and information security. As a pure privacy issue, it allows for tracking individuals on the Net." Gelsinger addressed privacy concerns in Thursday's briefing.

The Intel exec said the PC chip giant was walking on glass when it came to privacy considerations with its new processor ID scheme. "We won't keep a database of [the numbers] and we won't track them," he said. "We are not keeping those processor numbers in any form at all." Gelsinger added that the new initiative would not be used to combat illegal overclocking and chip theft -- two possible uses for the technology. Instead, applications vendors and Web sites can use the numbers to link a PC with a user's identity, thereby doubly ensuring the customer is who they say.

An Intel UK spokesman added that the ID numbers could "be turned on and off" by the user using ordinary Windows software. Intel also talked about its random number generator -- another security feature, which will be included in the chips for future PCs starting with Intel's next generation Pentium III. The generator will use thermal noise -- random signals affecting all silicon components -- to create truly random numbers. "We will not use this to create new security technology," said Gelsinger, "but to make today's software more secure."

Random numbers are necessary for strong encryption -- a way of securing data from viewing by unintended audiences. The new feature will be included somewhere on the motherboard, said Gelsinger, not necessarily in the actual processor. Another security feature slated for the next generation of Intel architecture is the Internet security protocol IPSec, which will be highlighted at the Intel Developers Forum in late February.

The PC chip giant also discussed its bi-annual efforts to shrink its processors. The next-generation of technology is known as 0.18-micron manufacturing. The new process will shrink processors to half the size they would require using today's 0.25-micron technology, and should be used to create processors due out later this year.

Intel plans to first use the technology to make processors for notebook computers.

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