From Intel's labs: Virus hunters and power savers

With a tool from the chipmaker, worms learn the meaning of Sartre's play, "No Exit." Also, image search and voltage regulators.

SAN FRANCISCO--In the future, PCs infected with worms or viruses may try to contain the plague by putting themselves in quarantine.

Automatic Network Outbreak Containment (formerly code-named Circuit Breaker) was one of a number of future technologies shown off on the final day of the Intel Developer Conference here. The software examines anomalies in packet traffic and, if a problem occurs, takes the computer off the network. In 8,000 hours of tests, the technology has detected every known virus thrown at it, as well as the synthetic worms concocted in the lab, said Justin Rattner, who runs the chipmaker's corporate technology group.

Justin Rattner,
senior fellow, Intel

"It is looking at changes in traffic pattern behavior. It doesn't have anything to do with how the virus was coded," said Rattner. "It also does a good job avoiding false positives. If your system was disconnected from the network because of a suspected virus on a regular basis, you would be very unhappy."

In an onstage test, Rattner produced a jug of mealworms and told the demonstration assistant that he would have to eat a live worm for every computer worm that escaped in the demo. None did.

Proactive, or autonomic, computing has become one of the dominant themes for Intel's labs in the past five years. The overarching goal is to develop machines that will detect problems--an open window, an overheating server, an overstuffed e-mail in-box that will take several hours to go through--and then fix them without human intervention.

Keeping to that theme, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University during Rattner's speech showed off the Diamond project, which lets individuals search through digital photos on a hard drive by actually searching on the image itself, not data attached to the photo.

During the demo, Diamond first compiled a roster of photos on a drive that appeared to contain a face. That action pulled up pictures of people, but also roses and other roundish items. The search results were then narrowed when all photos not containing a particular shade of blue were tossed out.

"There are going to be tens of thousands of pictures sitting on hard drives," a Carnegie Mellon researcher said. "How do we find it if it is completely unlabeled?"

Google and other search engines currently provide a sort of image search, but the software is really searching on metadata tags attached to the image, not the contents of the image itself. Purdue University and IBM have a similar project.

Rattner showed off some silicon as well. The company has developed digital voltage regulators made in standard silicon. Voltage regulators essentially control the amount of energy directed to different computer parts. Currently, regulators are analog chips, which can't react as quickly to changes, said Nathan Brookwood, an analyst at Insight 64.

Switching to silicon could improve battery performance by up to 40 minutes on notebooks.

The company also gave a demo of a Wi-Fi system that can track people and objects in crowded environments where GPS (Global Positioning System) technology sometimes doesn't work well.

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