AMD, Intel put antivirus tech into chips

The companies plan to soon release technology that will allow processors to stop many computer attacks before they occur.
Written by Michael Kanellos, Contributor
LAS VEGAS--Advanced Micro Devices and Intel plan to soon release technology that will allow processors to stop many attacks before they occur.

Execution Protection by AMD, technology contained in AMD's Athlon 64 chips, prevents a buffer overflow, a common method used to attack computers. A buffer overflow essentially overwhelms a computer's defense systems and then inserts a malicious program in memory that the processor subsequently executes.

With Execution Protection, data in the buffer can only be read and, therefore, is prevented from doing its dirty work, John Morris, director of marketing at AMD, said in an interview Thursday at the Consumer Electronics Show here.

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"Now in current processors, any programs that go into the memory overflow can be executed," he said. "With this, the system only allows read-only in the buffer. It will not execute." The malicious program is then disposed harmlessly when the PC is turned off, he said.

The circuitry is already inside existing Athlon 64 chips, but it can't be activated yet. That will occur when Microsoft releases Service Pack 2 for Windows XP early in the second quarter. By then, AMD also will have a catchy marketing name for the technology, Morris said.

Intel is putting a similar technology in Prescott, an enhanced version of the Pentium 4 expected next month, according to computer manufacturers. Intel declined to comment.

Security problems, of course, have become a multibillion-dollar problem and show few signs of abating. These sorts of technologies could undercut one of the more severe headaches out there, Morris said.

A number of damaging worms from last year relied on buffer overflows. Around 50 percent of the Windows security updates from Microsoft in the last two years may have been rendered unnecessary if the technology existed then, according to an analysis by AMD and Microsoft.

Morris said the first full-fledged 64-bit programs for the Athlon 64 will appear this quarter. Ubisoft is slated to release a 64-bit version of "Far Cry" in March, while Epic Games will release a 64-bit version of "Unreal Tournament" in the first quarter.

By going to 64 bits, these games will be far more realistic, because more complex graphics will be possible. "Now you will be able to blow a hole in the ground and use it as a fox hole," Morris said.

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