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Bob Gourley

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Making vPro Work For You

Logo of Intel, Jul 1968 - Dec 2005

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vPro is a suite of high-impact technology that has just begun to make its presence known in mainstream IT organizations.  vPro can help you bring your organization’s security structure into shape with features that make a dramatic positive difference.

vPro technologies are implemented in the hardware and firmware of the Intel chipset in Intel Core 2 Duo computers and above (at the bottom of this post is a link to a list of vPro-enabled processors) which can provide everything from secure remote management to hardware-assisted virtualization.  This suite of technologies holds many computer security advantages for the corporations willing and able to take advantage of them.

When you hear vPro think of Active Management Technology (AMT) and Trusted Execution Technology (TXT).  There are other capabilities in vPro but these are the first two we recommend implementing to dramatically enhance your enterprise security.

Active Management Technology

AMT is the Intel implementation of the open DASH standard (DASH stands for Desktop and Mobile Architecture for System Hardware) of the Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF). Consider an enterprise where computers may need to have a significant amount of reliable up-time through business hours. Most of the machines when they are left for the night are shut off, which means that at 1:00am, the only time that IT has to push security updates, most of the computers are off and only receive updates when turned on the next day by students, causing up-time issues.

By utilizing AMT with vPro-enabled chipsets, the enterprise IT shop could turn on all the computers on the network, allow them to receive the update, and then turn them back off when it is finished. This saves the organization time, money, and vulnerability exposure from the thousands of users browsing the internet from the machines each day.

Other AMT technologies that have security uses/implementations are remote KVM at BIOS and the ability to remotely isolate PC’s from the network at a hardware level

Trusted Execution Technology (TXT):

The Intel Trusted Execution Technology is instrumental in detecting and preventing malware from running on a vPro-enabled computer. At boot-time, the computer checks the validity of the configurations against stored configurations in protected memory in the processor. If the two don’t match, then it can be safely assumed that some tampering has occurred.

The same sort of approach is also taken with encryption key management. The keys are encrypted within hardware, but will only be decrypted when the environment is the same as when the keys were first encrypted. Thus preventing key theft in the event of exploitation.

The TXT system also allows for increased protection with the both the display and the input of data to a system with TXT-developed software. USB keyboards can be configured to have encrypted communications with the system, and software applications can be developed using more secure system calls to the computer display, preventing applications that sniff internal communications from stealing sensitive information.

Theft Protection:

Theft protection is one of the biggest and most-developed areas of the vPro technology suite.  By utilizing the out-of-band communication capabilities built-in the to vPro system, some proprietary Intel technologies, and a 3G wireless connection built into the laptop, fears about stolen laptops and desktops can be alleviated quickly and efficiently using a “poison pill”.

The poison pill is a code that can be sent remotely by system administrators from an asset management console to the device to render it inaccessible and useless by deleting encryption keys and disabling key boot processes. This code can be sent via wireless 3G, wired, WiFi, or SMS to the target device. When the poison pill is sent, the target computer. Different conditions can be set for the computer to activate its theft mode locally as well, such as a specified number of login failures, or failure to check in with the remote server after a designated time interval.

Beyond the Boundaries:

Today’s businesses are more and more often placing people outside of the relative safety of the internal corporate network and into unknown and sometimes even dangerous locales. By setting up a secure method of communications with the corporate network, companies can be more assured of the integrity, confidentiality, and accessibility of their data. But how does a company go about implementing this?

By building a network from the ground-up with compliant hardware, and utilizing a vPro gateway, properly configured clients will be able to establish highly secured and encrypted communications throughout their travels. By combining the security and management features with the roaming security tunnels, a fairly secure system with high accessibility could be achieved by a determined organization.

Comparisons to “Current” Tech:

Most of the issues with current tech is the lack of high-level integration with the hardware, firmware, and software of a computer in the sense that usually a software breach can compromise firmware and sometimes hardware. What the vPro system has done is reduced the available information to be gained from exploiting the operating system, automatically disabled infected and stolen computers, and created a remote viewing and on/off switch that has a high degree of manageability.

Current solutions generally don’t stand up to the same kinds of tasks because the solutions require complex hardware solutions that Intel is offering here in the form of AMT and their Third Party Protected Storage system. Sure, a company could continue to use full disk encryption, VPN’s, and Active Directory, but these solutions lack Out-of-Band communications with hardware, and are all software solutions with their own separate flaws and vulnerabilities that could each be exploited to affect the others (even the full disk encryption has methods for being defeated.  vPro technologies could mitigate or negate many current attacks).

More Resources for vPro technology application:

List of processors supporting vPro: http://www.intel.com/support/vpro/sb/CS-030703.htm#core17m

Intel vPro Whitepaper: http://www.intel.com/technology/vpro/pdf/intelcorevprowhitepaper.pdf

More about AMT and its features: http://cache-www.intel.com/cd/00/00/32/09/320960_320960.pdf

 

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Bob Gourley writes on enterprise IT. He is a founder of Crucial Point and publisher of CTOvision.com