IBM PCs Get Embedded Security Chip

SAN FRANCISCO (01/31/2000) - IBM Corp. has begun shipping some PCs, notebooks, and workstations with an embedded security chip containing public and private "keys" that can be used to encrypt e-mail and files. The systems also come preloaded with Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 2000 operating system, to be launched formally on Feb. 17, with new security features of its own that complement the chip, IBM says.

The chip comes soldered onto the motherboard of certain PC 300 desktops and Intellistation workstations, as well as the ThinkPad 600X notebook computer.

IBM is also offering a smart card security kit that allows the computers to be outfitted with an extra level of security that requires users to insert a credit card-like passkey into a special reader before gaining entry.

The embedded security chip supports passwords, and its supply of keys is "unlimited," says Phil Hester, vice president of systems and technology for the IBM Personal Systems Group. "Think of it as a secure gateway to the hard drive."

While the new systems are mostly intended for corporations, the PC 300 is a small-office/home-office system, but Hester admits that previous public-key encryption products targeting home users have been slow to catch on. He says casual users can use the chip's encryption to digitally sign and seal e-mail.

"Our philosophy here is really to raise the bar on built-in security," he says.

IBM was careful to avoid the type of uproar raised by privacy advocates when Intel Corp. released an upgrade of its Pentium III chip containing unique ID numbers last year. The privacy groups, including JunkBusters.com and the Center for Democracy and Technology, like the IBM chip "because basically we don't preload anything," Hester says. "You can choose as the authorized user to turn it on or off."

Hester says IBM is the first PC maker to ship an embedded chip based on standards proposed by the Trusted Computing Platform Alliance, an industry group formed by IBM and other computing heavyweights, including Compaq, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, and Microsoft, to standardize security at the PC hardware level.

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