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November 10, 2020
MediaTek Driving New Low-Cost Options for 5G and Chromebooks

October 27, 2020
Sony Highlights Remote Technologies for Creators

October 21, 2020
Dell Technologies Embraces “As-A-Service” Models with Project Apex

October 13, 2020
PC Growth and Evolution Continues to Impress

October 6, 2020
Google Workspace Reflects Changing Nature of Productivity

September 22, 2020
Microsoft Highlights Future of Work with Teams Updates

September 14, 2020
Nvidia Purchase of Arm Completely Resets Semiconductor Landscape

September 1, 2020
Nvidia Pushes Ray-Traced Gaming Ahead with 3000 Series GPUs

August 25, 2020
Pending Fall Tech Releases Bring Excitement and Hope for Normalcy

August 18, 2020
Intel Chip Advancements Show They’re Up for a Competitive Challenge

August 11, 2020
New 5G Opportunities Coming with Mid-Band Radio Frequencies

July 28, 2020
The Shifting Semiconductor Sands

July 21, 2020
Microsoft and Partners Bring More Hyperconverged Hybrid Cloud Options to Azure

July 14, 2020
New Study Highlights Pandemic-Driven Shifts in IT Priorities

July 7, 2020
Nvidia Virtual GPU Update Brings Remote Desktops, Workstations and VR to Life

June 30, 2020
Power Efficient Computing Noteworthy During Pandemic

June 23, 2020
Apple Transition Provides Huge Boost for Arm

June 16, 2020
Cisco Highlights Focus on Location as Companies Start to Reopen

June 9, 2020
WiFi 6E Opens New Possibilities for Fast Wireless Connectivity

May 26, 2020
Arm Doubles Down on AI for Mobile Devices

May 19, 2020
Microsoft Project Reunion Widens Windows 10 Opportunity to One Billion Devices

May 12, 2020
New Workplace Realities Highlight Opportunity for Cloud-Based Apps and Devices

May 5, 2020
HP’s New Chromebooks, Thin Clients and Gaming Machines Highlight PC Evolution

April 28, 2020
Google Anthos Extending Cloud Reach with Cisco, Amazon and Microsoft Connections

April 21, 2020
Remote Access Solutions Getting Extended and Expanded

April 14, 2020
Apple Google Contact Tracing Effort Raises Fascinating New Questions

April 7, 2020
Need for Multiple Video Platforms Becoming Apparent

March 31, 2020
Microsoft 365 Shift Demonstrates Evolution of Cloud-Based Services

March 24, 2020
The Time for Pragmatism in Tech is Now

March 17, 2020
The Value of Contingencies and Remote Collaboration

March 10, 2020
AMD Highlights Path to the Future

March 3, 2020
Coronavirus-Induced Pause Gives Tech Industry Opportunity to Reflect

February 25, 2020
Intel Focuses on 5G Infrastructure

February 18, 2020
Apple Coronavirus Warnings Highlight Complexities of Tech Supply Chains

February 11, 2020
Arm Brings AI and Machine Learning to IoT and the Edge

February 4, 2020
Nvidia Opens Next Chapter of Cloud Gaming

January 21, 2020
Cloud Workload Variations Highlight Diversity of Cloud Computing

January 14, 2020
New Research Shows It’s a Hybrid and Multi-Cloud World

January 7, 2020
It’s 2020 and PCs are Alive and Kicking

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TECHnalysis Research Blog

November 17, 2020
Microsoft and Chip Partners Help Secure Future PCs with Pluton Processor

By Bob O'Donnell

Sometimes there are downsides to being popular. Just ask any celebrity who gets dogged by paparazzi.

In the device world, one of the most popular celebrities out there is the Windows 10-based PC. It’s seeing shipment levels it hasn’t enjoyed in over a decade and, earlier this year, surpassed the one billion milestone in its installed base of monthly active users.

While that’s great on one hand, it has also created its fair share of unwanted attention from bad guys—in this case hackers and other malfeasants who want access to the treasure trove of data, security certificates, passwords, digital identity tokens, and other valuable information either stored within or accessed from a PC.

Cognizant of these concerns, there have been numerous attempts over the years from hardware system makers, chipmakers, software companies, OS creators, and utility vendors to better secure PCs and their content. While some of these initiatives have been targeted across all types of PC users, most of the best and strongest efforts have been specifically targeted at enterprise PCs used in privacy-sensitive or regulated industries such as finance, health care, and manufacturing, as well as government and military applications.

With its surprising latest project, the Pluton processor, Microsoft and PC chip partners AMD, Intel, and Qualcomm appear to be laying the groundwork for bringing a higher-level of PC security to all Windows 10-based PCs, both consumer and commercial. Technically, Pluton is actually IP (intellectual property)—that is, the structure, design, and software of a processor block—that will be embedded into future versions of CPUs from each of the three major PC chip vendors.

Essentially, Pluton will bring the functionality of a separate TPM (Trusted Platform Module) chip directly into the CPU. TPMs, which are a type of hardware root of trust, are used to store security keys and to prevent unwanted firmware and other BIOS-related changes on a PC. TPMs are also used to enable system-level technology, like Windows Hello and BitLocker encryption.

Previous iterations of TPMs have existed on the same SoC (System on Chip) package as the CPU, but the Pluton Processor effort is the first to put the capabilities directly into the CPU core. This is important because it helps solve a few potential security problems that have become more apparent as malware attacks, such as CPU-focused side channel efforts, have grown more sophisticated. First, it closes off the possibility of intercepting messages between the TPM and the CPU (which, up until now, have occurred over a system bus) in the event of a physical attack—such as when someone steals or has direct in-person access to a computer.

Pluton will also store critical security data in encrypted form on the chip in a manner that is isolated from the rest of the system, thereby avoiding potential exploitation from new hacking techniques, such as those based on speculative execution, that attempt to move otherwise secure material into memory.

Finally, because Pluton is expected to be a single standard that will be deployed consistently across all three major PC CPU makers, it provides a new standard mechanism for doing updates down to the firmware level. This means that firmware and BIOS updates, which many people skip or simply don’t know exist, can be integrated into the normal Windows Update process, thus ensuring that more PCs stay completely up-to-date with all the latest security patches.

Interestingly, Microsoft developed some of the original functionality behind Pluton when it created the Xbox 360 game console CPU in conjunction with AMD back in 2013. It turns out that game consoles are one of the few devices where the users are the actual hackers—in efforts to avoid paying for games, cheating in-game, etc.—which forced Microsoft to take a zero-trust approach from within its own hardware. Many of those same principles are being used in Pluton, as well as a chip-to-cloud architecture Microsoft created for making highly secure cloud-based connections to update the console’s firmware (along with its Azure Sphere IoT devices).

Last year’s secured-core PCs were an important step forward in blocking the increasingly sophisticated (and numerous) attacks that business PCs are facing. Similarly, recent secure BIOS offerings from Dell, HP, and Lenovo, as well as individual endeavors from Intel and AMD, also helped deter some of these challenges. Truthfully, though, it was and still remains difficult to track all of the security efforts and to understand how they all fit together. At first glance, it appears that with Pluton, Microsoft is making an attempt to standardize around a single, even stronger, zero trust-based, hardware security paradigm that leverages these earlier efforts and extends them to an even broader range of PC users—a critically needed exercise.

Exactly when we’ll all be able to enjoy the security benefits that Pluton seems to offer is unknown, unfortunately, because details of when it will show up in future AMD, Intel, and Qualcomm CPUs (and in which models) have yet to be released. However, it’s clear even now that the core PC ecosystem partners are working together to improve the security of PCs across the board, and that’s something we can all appreciate.

Here’s a link to the original column:

Bob O’Donnell is the president and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a market research firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech.

Leveraging more than 10 years of award-winning, professional radio experience, TECHnalysis Research participates in a video-based podcast called Everything Technology.
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