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Intel's McAfee buy marks a turning point for security

Is McAfee really worth $7.68 billion? If Intel's security plans extend from software into hardware and cloud computing, the acquisition could lead to a major shift in IT security.

There has been a lot of buzz during the past few weeks regarding Intel's acquisition of McAfee. Delving into the dollars and sense of the information security industry's largest acquisition ever, is McAfee really worth $7.68 billion? Intel's financial analysts, executives and lawyers apparently believe so. Me? Well, I've certainly seen a lot of acquisitions ruin otherwise great technologies, but I think this time is different. While it's clear that McAfee brings a lot to the table in terms of endpoint security, I don't believe Intel is really aiming for antivirus software or security scans for compliance with credit card regulations. It's likely that the powers that be at Intel have a much grander vision.

I've always believed that unless -- and until -- hardware manufacturers such as Intel and operating system (OS) vendors such as Microsoft start building security into computers by default then enterprise desktops will continue having security problems. This is probably where Intel is headed with McAfee's technologies. If you build these security controls into the hardware and (presumably) make the hooks available to third-party vendors, suddenly the typical workstation is much more secure.

This isn't Intel's first rodeo though. If you've been following the company over the past couple of years, you know that it has already started pushing in the area of security with its Anti-Theft Technology. In a nutshell, this Intel 2010 Core hardware-based technology protects laptops and the sensitive data they house in the event of a loss or theft. It's not just the hardware, though. Intel has strategic partnerships with various vendors specializing in disk encryption and asset recovery. And now it acquires McAfee. Hmm, I'm starting to see a trend.

Think about it in terms of where computing technology is headed. Along the lines of its Anti-Theft Technology, I could see Intel integrating McAfee-based security features into the hardware and firmware layers. Now we're talking. Security built into those layers for the OS and installed applications to use could arguably put an end -- once and for all -- to numerous endpoint security problems. It wouldn't surprise me if such evolving technologies ultimately put an end to standalone anti-malware and whole disk encryption software as we know it. The mere potential of reducing the number of security applications at the endpoint (if not eliminating them altogether) is worth the $7.68 billion. I'm sure Windows admins who have struggled with those apps would agree.

Extrapolate hardware-based security principles out into the cloud and, especially, the mobile computing world we now live and work in, and Intel could be the savior we've been waiting for to finally get our arms around security. Who would've thought? Given how far things have come since the advent of the IBM PC nearly 30 years ago, none of this would surprise me anymore. Kudos to Intel for (hopefully) seeing the bigger picture. What's next -- AMD acquiring Symantec? We'll have to wait and see, but I suspect we'll look back on Intel's acquisition of McAfee a few years from now and say, "Oh, I get it.".

About the author:
Kevin Beaver, CISSP, is an information security consultant, expert witness, author, and speaker at Atlanta-based Principle Logic LLC. With over 21 years of experience in the industry, Kevin specializes in performing independent security assessments revolving around compliance and minimizing information risks. He has authored/co-authored eight books on information security, including the newly-updated Hacking For Dummies Third Edition. In addition, he's the creator of the Security On Wheels information security audio books and blog providing security learning for IT professionals on the go. You can reach Kevin through his website and follow him on Twitter at @kevinbeaver.

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