Intel, VeriSign partner up

A new hardware-based user authentication capability will be available in Intel Corp.’s upcoming Banias microprocessors, due out next year in notebook computers.

In an announcement Tuesday, Intel and digital trust services vendor VeriSign Inc. said they’re partnering in a multiyear deal to provide hardware-based authentication options that notebook computer makers can incorporate into their business-class machines.

The new line of Intel Banias processors, which is expected to be released in the first half of 2003, will be optimized to work with a separate Trusted Platform Module (TPM) on the notebook’s motherboard. The TPM is a hardware security controller that contains a microprocessor and volatile memory, where a user’s private key security information can be stored. [Please see Intel shows Banias, desktop hyper-threading at IDF.]

The idea, said Ed Kim, a product line manager at Mountain View, Calif.-based VeriSign, is that by using hardware user authentication, corporate computing can be made more secure. The TPM will work with VeriSign’s digital certificates and authentication software.

Because the features will be built into the notebook’s hardware, users won’t need to use other authentication tools, such as hardware tokens or smart cards. Those tools provide user identification through a small handheld device used in conjunction with a laptop.

According to VeriSign, the planned features will allow for improved security-enhanced remote access and messaging, single sign-on and trusted peer-to-peer computing in an enterprise computing environment. Such easy-to-provide authentication features are considered more critical in business computing today because of the mobility and wireless communications available to notebook computer users.

“Our work together will enable a new generation of safer, mobile wireless computing, bringing a wide range of security-enhanced applications and software for future Banias PC users,” Anand Chandrasekher, vice-president and general manager of Intel’s mobile platforms group, said in a statement. “This is a significant step in addressing authentication and security issues – both of which are critical for end users who desire increased mobility.”

Kim had no estimate of how much the new system would cost as part of a Banias-equipped laptop. Original equipment manufacturers will have the option of including the new technology in their machines, and eventually the two companies will look at the option of providing such features to desktop PC makers, he said.

Analysts said hardware authentication is where the market is heading.

Eric Hemmendinger, an analyst at Aberdeen Group Inc. in Boston, said the idea is a good one but will probably need several years to achieve widespread use. If IT managers have only a few TPM/Banias-equipped laptops being used by workers, they are not likely to jump fully onto the bandwagon, he said.

“At some point, it will make sense when the numbers [of users] go up,” he said. “This is a…long-term play.”

Pete Lindstrom, an analyst at Hurwitz Group Inc. in Framingham, Mass., said the match between digital trust powerhouse VeriSign and processor-maker Intel is a good one because it pairs two companies that are leaders in their fields.

“The big question is how many laptops will incorporate this [TPM] chip,” Lindstrom said.