Microsoft and the entertainment industry's holy grail of controlling copyright through the motherboard has moved a step closer with Intel now embedding digital rights management (DRM) within in its latest dual-core processor Pentium D and accompanying 945 chipset. But as well as the much-touted digital rights management hardware, the chips also include systems management features.
Officially launched worldwide yesterday, Intel is heavily promoting what it calls "active management technology" (AMT) in the new chips as a major plus for system administrators and enterprise IT. Understood to be a sub-operating system residing in the chip's firmware, AMT will allow administrators to both monitor or control individual machines independent of an operating system.
Additionally, AMT also features what Intel calls "IDE redirection" which will allow administrators to remotely enable, disable or format or configure individual drives and reload operating systems and software from remote locations, again independent of operating systems. Both AMT and IDE control are enabled by a new network interface controller.
"We all know our [operating system] friends don't crash that often, but it does happen," Intel's Australian technical manager Graham Tucker said.
More controversially, the new offerings come DRM-enabled and will, at least in theory, allow copyright holders to prevent unauthorised copying and distribution of copyrighted materials from the motherboard rather than through the operating system as is currently the case.
While Intel steered clear of mentioning the new DRM technology at its Australian launch of the new products, Tucker publicly confirmed that Microsoft-flavoured DRM technology will be a feature of Pentium D and 945.
"[The] 945g [chipset] supports DRM, it helps implement Microsoft's DRM ... but it supports DRM looking forward," Tucker said, adding the DRM technology would not be able to be applied retrospectively to media or files that did not interoperate with the new technology.
However, Tucker ducked questions regarding technical details of how embedded DRM would work, saying that, in the interests of security, it was not in the interests of his company to spell out how the technology works.
The situation presents an interesting dilemma for IT security managers as they may now be beholden to hardware-embedded security over which they have little say, information or control.
Intel's reticence to speak publicly about what lies under the hood of its latest firmware technology has also prompted calls to come clean from IT security experts, including Queensland University of Technology's assistant dean for strategy and innovation, IT faculty, Bill Caelli.
"It's a dual use technology. It's got uses and misuses. Intel has to answer what guarantees it is prepared to give that home users are safe from hackers. Not maybes, guarantees".
Caelli said it was "critical Intel comes clean" about how the current DRM technology is embedded into the new CPU and chipset offering.
Microsoft was unavailable for comment at press time.