Apr 8, 2006

DRM and hardware security

Did you just get a new Mac with an Intel chip inside or are you planning to get one soon? If so, you might find this article interesting.

I don't know a lot about how TPM (Trusted Platform Module) technology works, but if this article is even half right, you may think twice before getting that Mac.

The one thing in the article that caught my attention was the reference to the EFF's (Electronic Frontier Foundation) analysis of the Trusted Computing initiative, in which a significant portion of security implementations are based on hardware. (Read more about it here.)
It opens a very fundamental question - is hardware security really secure? Just consider the following hypothetical situations :

1. The hardware version has implementation errors - This is something very serious because it basically means you will have to throw out your whole hardware to ensure that it is secure. If the software had bugs or glitches, you can always replace it with an upgrade or a completely different system, much like changing the firmware of your cellphone. You would never even know this until you come up with something like what Intel faced with the Pentium FDIV bug. (And it wasn't pretty.)

2. The hardware vendor intentionally creates backdoors - This is an unlikely scenario, but far more dangerous than the previous one. While the former possibility would arise only when discovered by somebody accidentally and then find ways to misuse it, this option gives the vendor known pathways into the system. The possibilities of abuse are endless and I wouldn't even want to imagine what the vendor could do with such a kind of privilege.

I am no Mac expert and I wouldn't know RISC from CISC, but if the article is pointing to something really fishy, I would rather stay with my PC for now.


Wally Banners said...

Hi I heard that mac has now windows os. my question is why then get a mac?

rankwil said...

Wally: Yes, that is indeed the first question that comes to mind. The main reason why people would want Windows to run on Macs would be to play the zillions of games that are available for Windows. Most games are available on the Windows platform, but the range would be narrower for Apple's OS. But your still question still holds if you use your computer for something other than gaming, of course!