AMD may build ExactTrak data-zapping into its chips, to compete with Intel vPro


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AMD said Thursday that it signed a deal with ExactTrak to embed the security company's technology inside its microprocessors. While no new products accompanied the announcement, the deal leaves open the possibility that AMD-based PCs could be remotely zapped—yes, literally—by users or network administrators.

ExactTrak manufactures secure USB sticks, embedding a SIM card and GPS for tracking them and remotely managing their contents. If an ExactTrak USB stick is mistakenly left at a hotel or train station, a signal can be sent to the stick, rendering it incapable of transferring data. But it can also be physically fried by a short, high-voltage burst sent from the USB key’s embedded battery—clearly, the most intriguing part of the deal.

Neither AMD nor ExactTrak would say specifically which features of the ExactTrak system would be embedded into AMD microprocessors. But the core capabilities will be included. 


"As part of AMD's comprehensive security strategy, we are incorporating ExactTrak's Security Guardian technology that allows data access to be blocked depending on organizational data protection policies as well as irrevocably deleting the data," Roy Taylor, the corporate vice president in charge of alliances, said in a statement Friday. "The method in which this is done can vary depending on the implementation and the organization’s preferences and several different methods of data destruction being pursued,  one is to effectively destroy the data or access there-to, as a version of data loss prevention. AMD has explored the option of physical data destruction should a customer demand it."

Examples of those features include “turning on, off or destroying the data irrevocably, limiting the times or locations in which the data can be accessed and monitoring when information on the key has been added, deleted, copied or printed,” according to a joint statement from the two companies. It’s not clear, however, whether a laptop chip could be ordered to use the embedded laptop battery to physically fry components on the motherboard. 

An AMD representative said that executives were currently unavailable for comment. AMD’s partnership with ExactTrak comes at an opportune time, however. In January, Intel began winding down its Anti-Theft service, a security measure that could track down and lock down a missing PC. AMD’s new partnership means it will be able to step in and provide similar assurances to nervous security admins. 

Why this matters: AMD really hasn’t provided a convincing alternative to vPro, Intel’s technology for managing business PCs. Combining a number of hardware technologies, including Intel Active Management Technology (AMT), vPro has offered an argument that Intel-based PCs can be managed and secured, while AMD-based PCs must rely on third-party technology to do the same. Designing ExactTrak's technology into AMD chips would allay some of those concerns. After all, Intel bought McAfee for its security expertise.

Updated at 9:53 AM Friday with a statement from AMD.

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