Brave new digitial world
Posted by aogWednesday, 17 September 2003 at 08:13 TrackBack Ping URL

So Intel has decided to not include its Lagrande security / DRM hardware in all Intel processors. Details on what exactly Lagrande does are sketchy (a search at Intel yields no real information), but apparently it creates security barriers in the hardware itself so that (for instance) the average applicatoin can’t monitor the keyboard to record keystrokes. The goal is apparently to prevent spyware from capturing passwords and passing them back to a hacker.

It’s not clear to me why one would need more hardware support for this than already exists. A modern operating system provides this level of protection or could be extended to do so. For example,
“LaGrande delivers a hardware-based foundation for security,” [Intel president] Otellini said. “It includes protected execution, protected memory and protected storage.”
Every Intel processor since the 386 includes protected execution and protected memory, so what’s new here? Intel processors are going to protect my hard disk? I find that implausible.

The other thing to consider is that if Intel gets it wrong, if there’s a bug that makes the “protection” easy to crack, then

  • Intel can’t just issue a patch, they’ll have to physically replace millions of processor (sell stock now?)
  • It will be worse than doing nothing since the worst possible security situation is to think you’re safe when you’re not (if you’re not safe, it’s much better to be aware of that fact).

Moreover, the operating system would have to be extended to take advantage of the new hardware features in any event so it’s not clear there work to be saved. Now, some people think that this is the first wave of corporate control over digital information, but I tend to doubt it. While consumers in general don’t care very much about these issues, the first time Dad can’t move a home digital movie from his computer to his wife’s, there’ll be some seriously pissed off customers. More and more consumers are going to being ripping CDs and manipulating digital content and they’re going to expect it to be easy, particularly for their own stuff. If it’s not, then Bad Things are going to happen to the purveyors of computer hardware and software. The holes that will be put in to allow this will be enough for everyone else to slip through.

Finally, consider the software and hardware itself. Suppose it’s buggy on the first release - the bad taste from that would probably delay full adoptio for years all by itself. However, the longer it takes to build the DRM infrastructure the harder it will be to get adoption for the reasons mentioned above. So it might well be that we’re saved from DRM by its proponents and their over eagerness to deploy it.