Intel and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) will incorporate new Microsoft designed on-chip security technology called Pluton in their forthcoming hardware. Qualcomm also confirmed it would include the new hardware root-of-trust innovation in their future processors.
The Windows maker’s new framework locks user credentials and security certificates in a computer’s processor to make it more hacker resistant.
Removing a Critical Vulnerability
Microsoft developed its new hardware-based security solution to address a critical vulnerability often exploited by rogue online operators.
Because users store valuable personal information like email and bank logins at the software layer, hackers can access their data with various computer viruses. This long-standing problem has become more serious in the post-coronavirus pandemic landscape as the health crisis prompted a surge in cyberattacks.
Pluton addresses the issue by embedding security circuitry onto a system’s central processing unit (CPU). Microsoft’s revamped take on data protection will keep cybercriminals from remotely and directly collecting important personal information. The technology also makes systems more robust by embedding processing and security features on the same chip.
The Windows maker will deploy Azure and Xbox support for Pluton to provide “chip-to-cloud” ecosystem protection.
Like many innovations, Pluton is an offshoot or an unrelated initiative. Microsoft previously tasked its hardware engineers with developing hardware solutions to prevent Xbox owners from playing unpaid for games. The tech giant repurposed those tools to make Windows-powered personal computers harder to access by unauthorized parties.
Intel, AMD, and Qualcomm have not nailed down availability timeframes for their Pluton-equipped chips.
An Imperfect But Robust New Approach
On paper, Microsoft’s new technology should give PC owners a greater level of data protection than existing software-based cybersecurity programs. That said, it is not a foolproof solution as cutting-edge hardware frequently launches with critical vulnerabilities.
For example, in May 2019, researchers from Graz University of Technology discovered several generations of Intel-made CPUs had been a major flaw. Data scientists determined a feature called speculative execution, designed to expedite processing, could be subverted by malware. The Graz group could not determine if malicious operators used the exploit in the past. But they noted it had been present in most Intel chips made after 2011.
Intel ended up developing three separate patches to address the vulnerability researchers dubbed “ZombieLoad.”
In early 2018, researchers participating in Google Project Zero uncovered another speculative execution exploit called Meltdown and Spectre. Investigators found Meltdown permitted users to gather privileged information while Spectre left system memory running different applications vulnerable.
Expert programmers noted Meltdown primarily affected Intel chips, but Spectre attacks could subvert AMD and ARM chips. Microsoft deployed multiple patches for the bugs following their identification.
Despite their vast resources, corporations cannot make completely impregnable digital systems. However, Pluton could become a standard feature in new Windows computers powered by Intel, AMD, Qualcomm hardware. The widespread deployment of Microsoft’s new technology could make it much harder for hackers to perpetrate devastating cyberattacks worldwide.
Given how much more digitalized society has become in the wake of COVID-19, Pluton could make the future safer and more secure.