AMD, Microsoft pair up for security

The companies say they'll give viruses and worms a one-two punch with AMD's processor design, which will work in concert with the Windows XP operating system.

John G. Spooner Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Spooner
covers the PC market, chips and automotive technology.
John G. Spooner
2 min read
Advanced Micro Devices is promoting computer security through processor design.

The chipmaker on Wednesday announced that it has included a feature inside its Athlon 64 and Opteron processors for PCs and servers that will help combat certain computer viruses and worms. The feature, which will work in concert with Microsoft's Windows XP operating system, will be switched on later this year when Microsoft releases its Service Pack 2 update for the OS.

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AMD also unveiled this week its Alchemy Au1550, a processor for networking gear that comes with a built-in security engine.

As businesses and consumers become more aware of security and begin placing more emphasis on it, chipmakers such as AMD, Intel, Transmeta and Via Technologies have responded with efforts to add more security features to their chips and related hardware. Together, the AMD and Microsoft security features are designed to offer consumers and businesses greater security when sending e-mail or browsing the Web. The Alchemy Au1550 will bolster network security, such as virtual private networks, the company said.

"Computer security has become one of the most important issues in both the home and enterprise, and AMD and Microsoft recognize that it will take a strong combination of hardware and software to battle malicious code," Marty Seyer, general manager of AMD's Microprocessor Business Unit, said in a statement.

AMD's Athlon 64 and Opteron security features will work with Windows XP Service Pack 2's Data Execution Prevention feature to prevent buffer overrun exploits, a common method used to attack computers. A buffer overrun or overflow essentially overwhelms a computer's defense systems and then inserts a malicious program in memory that the processor subsequently executes.

Indeed, several damaging worms that have cropped up over the last year, have relied on buffer overflows. Around 50 percent of the Windows security updates from Microsoft in the last two years may have been unnecessary if the technology existed then, according to an analysis by AMD and Microsoft when they first began publicly discussing the security features in January.

The Athlon 64 and Opteron chips are available in PCs and servers now, and Microsoft is expected to deliver its Windows XP Service Pack 2 during the second quarter. Microsoft will also include other security enhancements, such as an expanded firewall and a pop-up ad blocker within Internet Explorer, the company said at this week's RSA Conference 2004

PC makers such as Hewlett-Packard and eMachines already offer Athlon 64 chips in desktops and notebooks, while IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems all have or have announced Opteron servers.

Meanwhile, the Au1550 includes a security engine, which offloads the duties of administering to secure network packets from the main processor core, helping to boost performance. The chip was designed for use in networking gear such as wireless access points, AMD said.