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IBM stamping ID's into new PC's

michael posted about 15 years ago | from the welcome-to-our-website-customer-ID-128723598756 dept.

Technology 161

Twid writes " Reuters is reporting that IBM is duplicating Intel with the Pentium III and stamping their new PC's with a "watermark" chip to allow for "secure transactions". Just like Intel, no mention is made of how to turn the feature off or how to ensure consumer privacy."

IBM may not have grasped Intel's failure here. Attention IBM: I have been a religious Intel owner. Just the other day I bought several computers with AMD chips instead of Intel P-III's, because I don't want to be tracked - so as long as Intel wants to track me and there's anybody else in the chip-making business, Intel won't be getting my business. You just don't realize that people take their computers seriously - they don't want it ratting on them to every website they visit, they don't want it informing on them behind their back, they don't want Clipper chips performing insecure e-commerce "encryption" for them. It sounds (and of course IBM is releasing this tomorrow, so this is preliminary) like IBM has created a proprietary, closed system, which very probably includes a back-door in it for U.S. law-enforcement access, because otherwise IBM would have trouble exporting it worldwide. Only pointy-haired bosses are going to want to purchase such things. -- michael

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Hrm.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1656380)

so when you sell your machine to someone else.. ? what about people switching watermark chips? Sounds like this is a possibility too.. Sigh. some people just don't get it.

Follow the leader.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1656381)

Well that's the problem with someone having a bad idea. One has it and all the rest want to follow. Thinking appears to be optional in a business.

Re:Stupid! (heh) (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1656382)

Once again, privacy freaks go nuts. First of all, your statement ignores one major fact: Intel doesn't have 'factories' in the US. It's rather difficult to ban something that doesn't exist. Next, no state in it's right mind would ban (or even be able to ban) a company for simply stamping a serial number into their products. Does the concept of a MAC address come to mind? What about PCs that have serial numbers on their RAM? Let's think about this. Please stop making up facts in order to fulfill your own short-sighted agenda. - Moonwick

This is good! (At least the way I read it) (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1656383)

People, before you start whining about yet another ID ala PIII, have you considered this could be a smart card chip on the motherboard? If so, this would indeed be a major step up for privacy and security. Although, why don't the just put a smartcard reader in the box? Welp, always room to improve. Sixtus (too lazy to log in) -- yhpargotpyrc devorppa tnemnrevog troppus I

Re:Stupid! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1656384)

Can I desolder the chip from the board and will the PC still work? Hope so! There direction is to control the E-commerce s/w on your PC. That is to sell you s/w in the future. This means another upgrade to all your s/w pkgs. Moreover, all your Office s/w now will be tied to your PC since this can serve as a h/w license code; they can monitor your transactions as to what you buy;get a royalty from the companies that want to write s/w to use this ID scheme;and last but not least... with ASP coming, it can be used to charge you based on the usage of apps on the server which they would provide this server code that does the monitoring.

All the people fussing are simply ignorant. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1656385)

Every PC with an ethernet card has a unique identifier called a MAC address, and it cannot be turned off. It's no different than the ID in an P3 CPU. I don't know why everybody is throwing such a hissy.

Shortsighted: Viruses? Trojans? Spoofers? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1656386)

The only way that this feature gets to communicate with the bad guy on the other side is if the software is written to do so.

I can easily imagine viruses or trojan horses that transmit your ID to god knows where. But this is just ranting.

The real issue is: How secure is is to trust the identity of the user based on his CPU/board ID when someone else could so easily "pretend" to be me by sending my CPU ID all over the net?

MP3 Secure? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1656387)

So, while we're on the topic of software/hardware encryption - has anyone cracked the MP3 Secure format yet?

No, your ignorant (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1656388)

You can change the MAC address of a card very easy, in software. As long as it's not the same as anyone else's on your subnet, you are fine.

Re:... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1656389)

System adminstrator? Here's a little tip people.... I work for an organization that recently bought 800 IBM PCs, they all come with a little antenna that hangs in the front for inventory control. It tells us ( the admins ) every thing inside of the PC, including, OMG! Serial Numbers! We use the serial numbers on the processors as well as the boxes, for inventory control. As I recall though, we had to INSTALL the software on each machine so that we could use this feature. BTW if you have ever bought ANYTHING in the computer retail business you are already tracked, we keep records of which processor/harddrive/motherboard/modem/sound/video/ memory/monitor/printer/fans/cases/mice/k eyboards/KVM/nics/cdroms/floppies/scanners/joystic ks etc.. etc.. We have to, it's the only way to easy do an RMA. So, next time you buy something, realize that that serial number is being tied to your sales receipt, which is tied to an invoice for a distributer, which is tied to the manufacturer. Sysadmin of what? A highschool lab?

Re:Hey, do you have an Ethernet NIC? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1656390)

Unfortunately that is not true, MAC addresses are not unique, company ID's in MAC addresses are unique but not the identifier part. That's why on some cards you can change it, also it is possible to spoof arp either through the use of some NICs or through dummy interfaces. Other than that quite correct, I don't mind being tracked, as long as I know it and that it can be used to find me if I get lost.

Another no bigee... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1656391)

People allways seem to want to start screaming about these things without first doing some reasonable thinking.

If you have a nic in your box, you have a serial number that uniquely identifies your box. I guess we'll have to change every mac address out there to the same, and really f-over routing on the internet.

The core of the entire issue is not at the hardware it's at the software. I don't run software that uses that ID number, period. They could use my credit card number for the unique ID, and since I don't run apps that use it.... IT DOESN'T MATTER. Sites that would require this information don't get my business, easy as that.

If you really want to get into conspiracies.. any app could create an almost guaranteed unique ID (combine timestamp, ipaddress, num blocks free on hd, time delay between key strokes, etc., you have a pretty unique ID), Netscape, IE, Opera, Lynx could all have it built in. I guess I better burn my computer and go crawl into a cave, because vi could be sending a UID back to the NSA.

Re:Stupid! (heh) (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1656392)

"First of all, your statement ignores one major fact: Intel doesn't have 'factories' in the US."

Please stop making up facts in order to fulfill your own short-sighted agenda

Perhaps you should follow your own advice. Or do some research. see Intel US Locations []

Phoenix, Arizona The community of Chandler, about 25 miles south of downtown Phoenix, is home to one of Intel's newest state-of-the-art
wafer fabrication [emphasis added] facilities. Products manufactured in Arizona include Intel's latest microprocessors. Chandler is also home to several component design and marketing operations, and is a major distribution center.

Why can't we disable this stuff in hardware? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1656393)

Why aren't these things easily disabled/blocked in hardware? Wouldn't that make everybody happy? Why doesn't Intel or IBM or the ethernet card manufacturers provide this option?

Chip Serials in General are quite a good idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1656394)

I for one don't really disagree with manufacturers placing security identifiers inside their boxes for a couple of reasons : Joe Bloggs corp owns 2000 PCs, how the hell do they keep track of the machines without using an ID that will be erased and likely changed every time someone places a new bit of software on the box or changes the LAN card. My laptop was stolen a few months back, I would really like a way of finding it. A worldwide serial number standard would help us poor sods that have our kit pinched, and would also help MIS in Joe Bloggs Corp. be a bit more efficient, unfortunately with IBM et al doing their own thing, we're just delaying ever seeing one. A worldwide standard endorsed by some significant bodies could also perhaps include an enforceable code of practice for use/abuse that would not allow XYZ Marketing to capitalize on it's existance. So thumbs up for action but thumbs down for another proprietary standard - well IMHO anyway !

Re:It could be good as theft protection (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1656395)

And what, exactly, led you to the conclusion that 'all PCs are now on the Internet?' Talk about a generalization! I could walk through a number of PC stores and libraries here in Washington (state) and point out any number that are NOT 'on the Internet' because they don't NEED to be. Think about what you type, hmmm?

What if my ID is stolen and used by others? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1656396)

This whole hardware ID scheme is just so insecure that using it for anything important is pure insanity.

Re:Why can't we disable this stuff in hardware? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1656397)

>Why aren't these things easily disabled/blocked in hardware? Wouldn't that make everybody happy? Why doesn't Intel or IBM or the ethernet card manufacturers provide this option?

Because everyone would disable them, and then they would be worthless. If you're trying to lock the sheep into the pen, it seems kind of silly to not but all four sides up.

To Quote Pete Townshend: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1656398)

Make a machine
To make a machine
And man and machine
Will make a machine
To break the machines
That make the machines.

(From the Iron Man musical)

No worries, someone will find a way to break this silliness. Or, an all-out boycott will put an end to it even quicker.

Stupid Comments (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1656399)

Man I hear some pretty dumb things on these replies. What was the deal with someone saying that Intel was going to be banned from a state because of their ID# processors. I have an idea, lets kick out one of the biggest sources of jobs in are state, so people will leave and we'll lose money. Sounds like a great plan. Also what is everyone so damned upset about. Who cares if you have an id# So it makes things more secure. So hmmm... maybe less people can see what your doing. Unless it is something illegal or your trying to hide something. In which case, law enforcement has to have things called warrants.

Re:Uhh.. there's no such thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1656400)

Agreed. Let's face it, no one who cared in the least about the security of their data would trust it to American sourced encryption. As you say, this chip is intended as a toy, not as a means of establishing security.

Re:Uhh.. there's no such thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1656401)

"Sure, this solution is secure, but it's not *as* secure as other, unexportable alternatives."

IBM's inability to export a more secure system is their problem. You haven't addressed why anyone would want to use their "secure but not *as* secure" system in preference to the more secure alternatives that already exist.

If someone is looking for cryptography they're unlikely to follow your reasoning that they should take second best unless there's a reason NOT to use a more secure approach.

Re:Uhh.. there's no such thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1656402)

"Sure, this solution is secure, but it's not *as* secure as other, unexportable alternatives." IBM's inability to export a more secure system is their problem. You haven't addressed why anyone would want to use their "secure but not *as* secure" system in preference to the more secure alternatives that already exist. If someone is looking for cryptography they're unlikely to follow your reasoning that they should take second best unless there's a reason NOT to use a more secure approach.

Re:Yeh, but it gets unsellable (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1656403)

Parts could be sold; those parts without unique indentifiers would be useful anywhere. However having a motherboard that identified you as someone/somewhere else could be useful to those wishing to defraud or defame the "registered" owner.

Re:oh goody! proprietary encryption! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1656404)

Ah! So it's a chip to do provide a form of encryption already widely available but with all the erm.. advantages of being tied to a machine instead of linked to a person? Now if I culd just find out what those advantages are...

Good intentions, bad solutions... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1656425)

When the PIII thing came out, I wasn't worried. Mainly because I knew that the *real* reason behind the ID was to stop the distribution of stolen processors. The whole "online ID" thing was a fanciful piece of horseshit dreamed up by a marketing newbie.

And I'm not worried about a privacy invasion from IBM. First of all, I don't use an IBM machine. Secondly, I know that software can always circumvent this type of stuff. Third: I think IBM actually had *good* intentions, but made a few mistakes in carrying out their intentions.

I don't think IBM's major motivation is to spy on users or create an invasion of privacy. I think that they want to motivate online purchasing, etc. And, hey, they're trying to get people to use crypto-- which isn't *all* bad, is it? So the intentions are good...

But the solution is bone-headed at best. Embedding a chip in the computer that will perform digital signature and encryption operations is a really inefficient and stupid way to go about encouraging the use of crypto.

First of all, why hardware? It's just as easy to implement the crypto in software. And software encryption can be much more flexible, handling larger key sizes for the ultra-paranoid, or forty-bit keys for the clueless.

Second of all, why integrate it into the computer? Okay, so you want to do it in hardware (in spite of its lack of flexibility). Why not distribute PC's with a dongle that plugs into a USB, parallel, serial, or Firewire port? That way, those of us who don't trust the damn thing can at least get rid of it.

Finally, why the hell would you do this when there was so much controversy over the PIII ID? I would figure that IBM has some good PR and advertising folks-- how did this one slip out the door?

Really, let's not jump on IBM. Applaud them for trying to encourage the use of crypto amongst the masses. Then scold them for raising the alarmist ire, and for not quite thinking the whole thing through.

Re:Stupid! (heh) (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1656426)

nce again, privacy freaks go nuts.

The price of freedom is eternal vigilance

Yes, its small, and yes it seems innocuous. Maybe it even is. But I'd rather have "privacy freaks" raise a stink now than risk waking up one fine day and wonder what happened.

Calm down (2)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1656427)

Can we please stop with the hysterics, at least until we know if there's something going on here that's worth getting hysterical over?

I can't believe that the original poster is talking about back doors and close systems based on nothing but wild-eyed speculation.

I realize it's a radical thought for some people around here, but let's get our facts straight first before we start deciding What It All Means, OK?

What this sounds like... (2)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1656428)

Is just a chip that does encryption and
signing. This could either be:

Very good if it uses standard, verifiable
hashes and encryption algorithms. If it
does indeed do encryption faster than this
is a good thing. Esp. If IBM gets export
licences for stronger keys.

Very Bad if it uses proprietary, unverifiable
algorithms, perhaps that don't fully use
key information so as to make it easier to
crack your important e-mail.

The article is pretty vague.

Question about reading chip ID's: Are these
privileged or un-privileged operations?

-- cary

Key sizes (2)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1656429)

I read that this chip implements RSA public key crypto -- but with maximum key lengths of 256 bits for messages and 1024 bits for signatures. We all know that 256 bit RSA is woefully inadequate for any real security. IBM is not about to piss off the us government by providing good or even mediocre encryption to the masses.

Routers got it wrong (4)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1656430)

IBM actually will put an encryption chip on all their pc's in the future, enhancing personal security not hindering it. see the register for more info.

Doesn't matter who is spying (2)

Gleef (86) | about 15 years ago | (#1656431)

Does it really make a difference. The government spies because it wants to know if you're a subversive or terrorist. The corporations spy because they want to know if it's worth their while to try to sell you soda, or a new computer, or whatever. I don't think either is worse than the other. They're both bad, and I want my tools to encourage neither and discourage both.

Let's leave watermarking out of computers.


Software concerns (1)

drwiii (434) | about 15 years ago | (#1656432)

If all new PCs eventually have serial numbers, it's only a matter of time before node-locked software becomes commonplace (in the Microsoft world, at least).

Re:Stupid! (heh) (1)

greg (1058) | about 15 years ago | (#1656434)

Intel has a big factory in Arizona, I don't think they make Pentium3s however. An Arizona state legislator did try to introduce a bill that would have banned the sale of the P3 and similarly equipped chips in the state. The bill wouldn't "ban Intel" just sale of the P3.

But if We Control The Software... (5)

Christopher B. Brown (1267) | about 15 years ago | (#1656435)

The only way that this feature gets to communicate with the bad guy on the other side is if the software is written to do so.

Details on precisely what instructions are involved would presumably be necessary; if one is running Linux, then actually using the instructions requires that someone convinces you to install software compiled with the "Evil Privacy-Killing Instructions."

This will fall high on the list of Things Ulrich Drepper Won't Add to GLIBC; it is equally likely to represent Instructions Unlikely To Be Added To the GCC Code Generator.

Note that this furthermore represents Instructions That Aren't on PPC which would encourage the purchase of PPC-based systems or Alpha-based systems...

Re:... (btw, DAV is not proprietary.) (1)

jCaT (1320) | about 15 years ago | (#1656436)

by the way, DAV is not a proprietary spec... go to and read.

Re:Shortsighted: Viruses? Trojans? Spoofers? (2)

Fastolfe (1470) | about 15 years ago | (#1656439)

The real issue is: How secure is is to trust the identity of the user based on his CPU/board ID when someone else could so easily "pretend" to be me by sending my CPU ID all over the net?

You can't, for precisely the reason you indicate. Anyone considering this information to be an authentic ID is smoking crack.

Fortunately, this chip isn't about sending your "ID" all over the 'Net. It's about cryptography and digital signatures, which are a bit harder to forge than a simple ID.

Along the trojan/virus thread, why in the world would somebody write such a virus? The only data this chip would attempt to make available is perhaps the public encryption key, which is designed to be put out into the public anyways. I don't see the big privacy problem here. A legitimate example of a privacy-invading virus would be one that watches the system and constantly reports where the current machine is browsing, what they're doing, what documents they have, etc., but this can be done with or without a cryptography chip such as this.

I suppose a trojan could use the chip to digitally "sign" something the user didn't intend to sign, but re-read the article: a user PIN (password) is allegedly required to activate this chip. *shrug*..

Re:oh goody! proprietary encryption! (2)

Fastolfe (1470) | about 15 years ago | (#1656440)

Why do you think this is proprietary? Don't you think that kind of limits the usefulness of such a chip? I mean what good is a digital signature or encrypted data if only people using an IBM machine with one of these chips can use/decrypt it?

I think it's a pretty safe bet they're using existing cryptographical systems. An earlier post said they were using RSA algorithms, but I haven't been able to verify that myself.

Uhh.. there's no such thing (2)

Fastolfe (1470) | about 15 years ago | (#1656441)

It's not possible to be 100% secure with your data. Period. It's all a matter of "degree". How "secure" do you want to be?

Sure, this solution is secure, but it's not *as* secure as other, unexportable alternatives. In ten years, "real security" will mean something entirely different. The original poster was using the term "real security" by saying the key sizes allowed by this chip were inadequate for truly sensitive data. I was simply saying that IBM is not marketing this mechanism for people that regularly make use of truly sensitive data.

Read the article if you haven't already. This is all discussed there.

Re:The Irony, and Lifespan of a Chip? (2)

Fastolfe (1470) | about 15 years ago | (#1656442)

But only IBM, or their designated manufacturers, or people who send a signal to my computer to get my "digital signature", can get at my hardware, excluding me.

I'm confused. The only thing this chip does is provide encryption and digital signature services to applications. You will need a software-based PIN/password to access these features. I don't see how this allows IBM and its "evil" minions to "get at" your hardware. Am I missing something?

On another note. Isn't an embedded security device likely to go obsolete pretty rapidly? Then what, we have to buy a whole new motherboard instead of just installing the latest version of the software? That sucks.

All hardware-based cryptography products will be "obsolete" in short order. Does that mean they can be upgraded? Not without changes in US export laws.

It's certainly possible this chip is replaceable as cryptography improves in the future.

easy would it be to pry the sucker off? ;) Or, I could just not buy an IBM. Yeah, that's the ticket.

Hey, suit yourself. It's just hardware-based encryption and digital signatures. The same sort of stuff I'm doing with PGP in software today. The only data that can be made public via this chip is your public key, which is something I make an *effort* to make public while I'm using PGP. I really don't see what all of the fuss is about. If you don't want to use it, just don't use it. If you feel like you don't want to buy from them, fine.

Re:What this sounds like... (2)

Fastolfe (1470) | about 15 years ago | (#1656443)

Guys, if the digital signatures and encryption is done in a proprietary fashion, that will make it incompatible with everything out there that makes use of public/private key cryptography. Not exactly the road to public acceptance, if you ask me.

Though you're right -- the article is pretty vague, but surely they're using a cryptographic standard.

Question about reading chip ID's: Are these
privileged or un-privileged operations?

What "ID's" are you talking about? Do you mean the public key? Does this really matter? The whole point about public/private key cryptography is to make the public key as widely known as you need it to be.

The article explicitely mentions you'd need a software-based PIN/password to access features of this chip, so I don't imagine these services will be available to any application unless you explicitely authorize it.

What "ID" is everyone talking about? (2)

Fastolfe (1470) | about 15 years ago | (#1656444)

The only thing this chip ever makes available would probably be your public key. The whole concept behind public/private key cryptography is to make the public key publicly available to those you want to communicate with.

If someone wants to write an evil privacy-invading trojan program that secretly tracks your every move, it's probably in their best interests to use any of the other ID mechanisms already on your machine, like the MAC address, Windows registration codes, e-mail addresses in your e-mail clients, etc., etc.

Besides, the article explicitely states that you'd need to enter a PIN/password of some form to use features of this chip. Now, I have no idea if it's possible to circumvent this, but you'd think IBM would have done a bit of thinking and planning prior to now, yes? *shrug*..

In short, the potential for privacy abuse is virtually nil, and it's comparitively zero when held up with other methods for identifying and tracking you that already exist in software and hardware. I don't see any virii, trojans or rogue software companies out there making use of that, do you?

Re:Less of a privacy issue than a security issue (2)

Fastolfe (1470) | about 15 years ago | (#1656445)

I don't think you quite understand how this chip is supposed to work.

So everything made on a computer can be traced to that computer.

This isn't correct at all. The digital signing/encryption process requires the user to enter a PIN/password. The user must *explicitely* make the effort to digitally sign a document or to encrypt data. This isn't something that can just be hidden in the background for malicious or rogue software companies to take advantage of.

Though to be fair, it's certainly possible that this PIN requirement could be bypassed by a trojan/malicious coder. I'd be interested to hear how IBM plans to keep that from happening.

Furthermore, what happens when 128-bit keys are no longer secure enough and you need to move to 256-bit keys?

I believe a previous poster mentioned that this chip was capable of 256-bit encryption and digital signatures up to 1024-bits. Granted, it will be obsoleted in several years, but it's more than sufficient for items not of a super-sensitive nature. The article explicitely states that it should be adequate for around 80% of their customers. The remaining 20% apparently have needs for stronger encryption and either won't use this hardware chip, or will use it in conjunction with something else (as the article states).

Nobody's *requiring* this chip to be used. The whole idea is that the hardware chip completely hides the private key, making it impossible to recover by software (thus exposing data encrypted with it). Yes, it will be obsolete in time. So will existing software solutions. If you don't want to use hardware cryptography, don't. If you don't want to use software cryptography, don't.

As far as tracking users goes, I can think of much better ways to construct evil programs and trojans to do this job much more effectively and doesn't require that the user have a motherboard with one of these chips. Privacy and security issues here are minimal at best.

Re:CPU-based identity intrinsically flawed (2)

Fastolfe (1470) | about 15 years ago | (#1656446)

Damn I feel like a broken record here..

the software can be used to track people wherever they go

A PIN/password is required to activate features of this encryption chip. Thus, encrypting or digitally signing something requires explicit user intervention.

There is no "ID" that is sent out by evil software. The only thing I can think of that might work in this fashion would be the public key, which is meant to be distributed anyway. If I were writing a trojan or an evil program to track users, I can think of a few better ways of doing this than relying on something only a small percentage of consumers is going to have available (like, say using the MAC address, Windows registration codes, e-mail addresses, etc., etc.)

Not marketed as "real security". (3)

Fastolfe (1470) | about 15 years ago | (#1656461)

This chip isn't being marketed at all as any "real" security solution. The article explicitely states this. In the event a consumer needs a more secure solution, IBM has add-ons and other products to suit them. The cryptography, they say, should be adequate for 80% of their customers. I agree.

Re:Wait a minute here... (4)

Fastolfe (1470) | about 15 years ago | (#1656463)

If there is a backdoor...

*IF* there is a backdoor. Somehow I doubt that such a back door exists. There's always the possibility that a back door will be discovered (and it's almost a guaranteed certainty, given enough time). If one is found, IBM will be nailed with lawsuits up the ass, criminal proceedings, you name it.

It doesn't make good business sense.

You know, it's certainly possible (I mean technologically, obviously) for the government to sneak in a hidden backdoor in Microsoft Windows. Does that mean we should ban and legislate Windows into extinction? It's also possible that they've secretly placed a backdoor in the operating systems that run on our Internet's routers. Quick! Ban the Internet!

Yes, each chip has a public key. If you don't want that public key given out, don't use software that makes use of it. Period.

I occasionally make use of a software-based PGP implementation, but you don't see me scrambling to hide my public key from people.

Remember: Multi-user systems are pretty commonplace nowadays (NT, Unix, even Windows-based workstations). It makes absolutely NO sense whatsoever to suddenly convert all programs so that they use this hardware-based encryption scheme over a user-defined one.

Less of a privacy issue than a security issue (2)

Robin Hood (1507) | about 15 years ago | (#1656464)

Although this obviously has many privacy concerns, I'm more interested in the security aspects of it. Based on the comments by Ms. Gardner, the IBM rep interviewed, that appears to be their main focus, too: they're interested in making <buzzword>E-commerce</buzzword> more secure. But they're going about it the wrong way (IMHO): see below.

``People from outside (of your organization) can get at your software,'' said Anne Gardner, general manager of desktop systems for IBM. ``People from the outside can't get to your hardware.''

So there will probably not be a software flash-upgrade for this chip or anything like that: after all, if it can be software-upgraded, it can be cracked: witness the recent virus (forget its name) that wiped your BIOS chip if you had a Flash-BIOS capable motherboard and chip. So the only way to upgrade this thing will be to replace the chip -- and it'll likely be soldered onto the motherboard.

``We want this to become an industry standard,'' IBM's Gardner said. ``We want this on as many desktops as possible.''

Which means that if they get there wish, people who build <buzzword>E-commerce</buzzword> sites will start to rely on their customers having PC's with the chip installed.

The features of the security chip include key encryption, which encodes text messages,

What key length? Is it upgradeable? Considering the "can't get at it with software" statement above, probably not. So either it will have export-grade encryption (weak and insufficient, as most /. readers well know) or the U.S. government will restrict its export from the U.S. Furthermore, what happens when 128-bit keys are no longer secure enough and you need to move to 256-bit keys? Whoops, sorry, can't just get a software upgrade, you need a new computer. More lock-the-consumer-into-the-upgrade-cycle stuff here, even if it's not intentional (and it very well may be intentional).

and ``digital signatures,'' which act as unique ``watermarks'' that identify the sender of the document.

So everything made on a computer can be traced to that computer. Just like typewriters in the olden days (I seem to recall a few detective stories based on that fact). Great -- could be useful in some circumstances; law enforcement would love that, for example. This is where the privacy issues (which I'm not discussing here) come in. BUT this just identifies machines and is useless for identifying people. It will almost certainly, however, be misused for identifying people by what computer they use. What happens when (not if) Joe L. User sits down at one of the public-access PCs at his local library to surf the web, sees a cool "web shopping" site and registers as a customer? Assuming the site uses the chip ID the way IBM seems to be suggesting here, it will send Joe's computer (which is actually the library's) a digital certificate for Joe to make it "easier" for him to shop there since next time he won't even have to log in. Joe likes this, of course: it makes things easier for him. So Joe orders a few things and leaves. (Log out? What's dead trees got to do with things, anyway?) Now Carl Cracker comes along, uses the same computer at the library, and checks the Netscape history to see what he can find. He finds Joe's recent visit to the <buzzword>E-commerce</buzzword> site, checks it out, and sure enough, Joe didn't log out. So he visits the site and their software thinks he's Joe. He orders a bunch of stuff and charges it all to Joe.

Plausible scenario? You bet. Could <buzzword>E-commerce</buzzword> site designers be so clueless as to use a mechanism designed for computeridentification to identify people? No doubt about it.

The real solution to the <buzzword>E-commerce</buzzword> security issue is software. Ubiquitous, open-source, peer-reviewed software. Like, say, PGP (International version) [] , or GNU Privacy Guard [] , or SSLeay [] . The hard part is that "ubiquitous" bit. You want real security? Here's how: Convince your boss to go open-source on the security aspects of the company's new <buzzword>E-commerce</buzzword> site. Read the Linux Advocacy mini-HOWTO [] first, then point out the advantages of using PGP or GnuPG or SSLeay rather than a proprietary solution. It'll be a hard sell, but stick with it. If everyone works at this, we'll eventually achieve the "ubiquitous" part.

The solution is out there, folks. Let's go implement it.
New E-mail address! If I'm in your address book, please update it.

Re:It could be good as theft protection (1)

mmontour (2208) | about 15 years ago | (#1656465)

You need this to be handled by a trusted and independent non government organization that is charted with the sole purpose of retrieveing stolen PCs, nothing else.

Yeah, but you know it will end up being handled by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, PCs, and Firearms.

There are already private companies that do this - if the criminal doesn't have the sense to blank the hard drive, a little program will phone in to the central office the first time he goes online. It's a voluntary system for those who wish to trade off a bit of privacy (and a bit of cash) for an improved chance of recovering stolen property. It only works because most criminals don't know about it yet.

Re:All the people fussing are simply ignorant. (1)

mmontour (2208) | about 15 years ago | (#1656466)

But I can unplug my ethernet card and install another one, or maybe (depending on model) re-program the MAC in my existing card. Everyone knows this, so nobody makes any claim that my MAC address identifies *ME* personally in any business transaction across the net.

The MAC address is used for node-locking certain types of software (the kind of software that costs more than your computer did, and where the salescreature gets a free trip to Hawaii if you buy the "gold" support package).

The noise about the Intel ID was not that it existed, but that Intel planned to use it in a very silly and dangerous manner.

OSS doesn't help here... (1)

nowan (4075) | about 15 years ago | (#1656467)

First of all, I found the article to be a bit scant on detail, so for all I know we're all misinterpreting this. But assuming that there is a unique id sort of thing in the hardware, as with the pIII:

The thing about this is that if it works and becomes ubiquitous having the source to your OS won't help. You'll start noticing that web sites require you to submit this ID, and that software have access to it in order to take advantage of certain "features". So, in order to make sure that linux/oss software can take advantage of these "features" support for this ID will be programed in. Sure, you can choose not to use it, but when everybody else is using it it could quickly become impossible to get by without it.

You might be able to spoof it, but people that write the web pages (or whatever) that use it will find ways around this. They could restrict page views to 100x per ID, for instance, so people couldn't all use the same ID. (I know, so make it random -- that might work. But then things devolve into a hack war, like the aol/m$ instant messanging war.)

Wrong... (1)

kevin lyda (4803) | about 15 years ago | (#1656469)

IBM's thing sounds weird and worrisome, but give it a rest with the Pentium ID thing. Intel is a 600lb gorilla, and I'm not a fan of theirs in any way (I own an AMD box, and am planning on a Cyrix palmtop). But this Pentium ID thing is just a goofy windmill to go tilting at.

If you don't like ID's on CPU's then I hope you avoid SPARCs. AFAIK most server oriented processors have ID's. Not for tracking on the net (which is just a moronic and insecure thing to do), but for node-locking an application.

Think of it, an application on a web server asks for your CPUID. It gets the answer across the net - how does it know where it came from?!

Sheesh! Give it a rest.

Re:No factories? (1)

stevew (4845) | about 15 years ago | (#1656470)

Then what do you call that thing over off
of San Thomas here in Silicon Valley?

Yeah right, no factories - sure.....

... (3)

Signal 11 (7608) | about 15 years ago | (#1656472)

You know, I'm reminded of a quote "Anything done by a man can be undone by a man". Witness software piracy.. witness the crypto community... witness our own [ Free software | open source ] communities reverse-engineering proprietary and highly guarded Microsoft protocols (Samba, DAV, etc).

How arrogant of IBM to assume the subversive element of our society won't abuse this new privacy-invading 'feature'. What's worse.. they're actually encouraging the very thing this ID feature was supposed to stop - fraud!

To use an old, but good, example - if you don't have a secure channel with another person, you probably aren't going to be tempted to communicate sensitive information with it. But.. if you think you have a secure channel with another party.. you may be more willing to divulge sensitive information. The key word here is think. If that channel isn't secure.. you're exposing yourself to more risk than if it didn't exist at all! It defeated the very reason it was created - security. The use of this chip holds a similar analogy - if it is used for verification, then anybody who can defeat it can masqarade as anybody relying on it as a method of authentication. In short.. the barn door is wide open.

So privacy nuts... I suggest you adopt this approach instead - crack this scheme as fast as you can! Defeat it before people start relying on it - and issue a joint statement on why this is such a bad idea.


End-to-End Security (1)

os10000 (8303) | about 15 years ago | (#1656473)

This is going to be a huge, huge, market. The music companies are the first ones to experience this. Hence, hardware companies are building end-to-end security. All of this is nicely outlined in the whitepaper that Entrust [] (investment from NatWest and everyone else in the money business) used to have online (they've investorified all their documentation into PDF). They say that you need a TCB (trusted computing base) to process the containers and my guess is that IBM is doing just that. It will be possible to hack this and Entrust even says so, but they don't worry, because legal steps are taken to make things "safe for business".

This is not so new... (1)

BlueWire (9674) | about 15 years ago | (#1656474)

Way back when... I worked with some comercial software (Jane's Ships...) that was licenced to to the ROM on the SUN system it was running on. Have to change that mainboard? Put it on another system? stops working...

hey!! (1)

cswiii (11061) | about 15 years ago | (#1656476)

from the welcome-to-our-website-customer-ID-128723598756 dept.

...That's my customer ID!

I think we ought to wait... (1)

symbolic (11752) | about 15 years ago | (#1656477)

One of the reasons the CPU ID was such a hassle for Intel was that Intel made a complete fool of itself by asserting that the CPU ID feature could be easily controlled by the user. This article, however, makes no mention of a CPU ID, but rather, a specialized chip for encryption/decryption and the handle of digital signatures. It doesn't sound like the same issue, but then again, the comments from IBM could be nothing more than a carefully-constructed PR piece.

That having been said, there is at least one issue - if the encryption/decryption is handled in firmware, will it mandate a limited key length? While I don't want to sound like a whacko conspiracy theorist, having an ability for limited encryption built in to a system targeted at the mass market, could give the government most of the control it needs over encrypted material.

Think for a second (1)

AndyB (11841) | about 15 years ago | (#1656478)

Read the two articles for yourself. No mention is made of them having the keys in them - for all we know they could just be hardware implementations of RSA/DH/whatever.

It's no secret that public/private key operations are slow, even today. Without special hardware, you can't get an SSL web server to keep up with a very heavy load at all. If you imagine a future where even clients may be doing dozens of these operations a second, then having such a chip in every pc would be useful.

Unfortunately, there currently isn't enough information to really know what is going on with this chip, so at least lets not jump to conclusions and burn IBM at the stake now...

(side note: as others have said, if you don't want a unique ID in your computer, you better get rid of that ethernet card...)

CPU-based identity intrinsically flawed (2)

jetson123 (13128) | about 15 years ago | (#1656479)

The notion of basing security on some piece of hardware associated with the CPU or motherboard is intrinsically flawed. I don't want my machine to authenticate as me: the identity of my machine doesn't matter. The machine may get sold or stolen or used by someone else.

Hardware based authentication and security tokens should be based on something portable, and that portable needs to have enough compute power to implement something like zero knowledge proofs. SmartCards fit the bill, and they are cheap. Keyboards should have SmartCard readers, and standard cryptographic methods allow secure transactions to be executed with SmartCards even over untrusted machines.

At best, the computer itself could benefit from hardware encryption that doesn't carry a key, in order to speed up throughput for encrypted data streams. But in the current political climate, putting hardware-based encryption into a PC is futile, since, according to US laws, it cannot be secure anyway.

Of course, e-commerce companies don't like SmartCards because, oh my, the consumer can remove them when they don't want to buy anything and don't want to get tracked. ID chips tied to the CPU or motherboard are great: the kids can order, the software can be used to track people wherever they go, and there is little most people can do about it if they run standard software like Windows.

If IBM wants to drive secure e-commerce, they should be shipping computers with SmartCard enabled keyboards.

Maybe (2)

um... Lucas (13147) | about 15 years ago | (#1656480)

I thought I read somewhere (no, I can't remember where) that this chip was just a random number generator in hardware. Which would theoretically be much more secure than one in software, because it could incorporate environmental variables that software can't access... If that's the case, then it's a good thing, so long as it's free for others to implement.

If the chip is a new ID, it's a huge waste of effort now that every intel CPU has an ID, every ethernet adapter has a MAC address, and every PC sold (through "legal" means) has a unique windows serial number (i know i know i know, use linux... just as soon as (fill in the blank) is ported! :) IBM predominatly uses Intel chips, so what justification could they give for making a new ID?

Responding to a comment above, I know I don't know where my link is, but do you have a link to where it says this chip implements 256-bit RSA??? I find it very hard to believe that IBM would be shortsighted enough to use that.

Philosophy conflict (3)

jabber (13196) | about 15 years ago | (#1656481)

What I think we're seeing here is the difference between two philosophies.

The geeks seem to hold fast to the belief that: You can not expect differing results from the same behaviour. We've seen the Intel precedent, and the result, and so we're expecting (reasonably) that the same actions by IBM (X) will have the same outcome (Y).. Next time, when a new value of X is fed into the function, the same value of Y will pop out the other end.

On the other hand, it looks like the corporations see it as: The squeak wheel gets the grease. Intel took the brunt of the opposition to the concept. Now IBM has picked up the gauntlet and is trying to run with it. Public opinion has been tested, and now the news is old. There is less likely to be as much opposition to the idea now, since it's not 'sexy' anymore. And if enough large companies reach concensus on this, the cusotmer is likely to simply believe, or give in assuming they can't win. Intel, IBM, any X, will keep chipping away at the issue until the wall gives way.

Eventually, what this will become is a matter of will. We have already made clear the reasons why this is not a good idea. We see it as a solved problem - how many times can you run through the same process until it becomes too tedious, and we move on? Intel was shown to be wrong and has backed down (a little). Now IBM put a new spin on an old hat. Eventually, one side will get tired, and it's likely to be the side that has less PR money.

Eventually we will get tired of voicing the same objections. The customers and the public-at-large will get tired of hearing the same arguments. The right legislator will get greased, and it will come into being.

Re:Hey, do you have an Ethernet NIC? (1) (13833) | about 15 years ago | (#1656482)

Yes, but if I were to steal someone's computer all I would have to do is throw out the NIC and buy my own (for 15 bucks or less, whatever). Putting a trackable serial number on the processor makes my machine that much more secure to theft, because sure they can take out my CPU and throw it away and buy a new one, but the CPU is the main cost of the computer in the first place...

Do any of you read the articles? (3)

BeBoxer (14448) | about 15 years ago | (#1656483)

The linked article never mentions a serial number ala Pentium III. Never. Not once. What it does say is that the IBM PC's will include a chip which performs some public-key encryption routines. Specifically, it will perform digital signatures. Now, how exactly is that an invasion of your privacy?

I'm amazed at how many posters on this thread are running on the "it's another CPU ID" gripe when that has no basis in reality. Besides, these PC's will probably ship with P-III's, and why reinvent the wheel ;-)>

To quote from the C|Net story about this:
------quote on--------
Big Blue, taking a lesson from Intel's blunder, worked with privacy groups, such as the Center for Democracy and Technology, on implementing the security chip.

"We found we could create a solution that does not create additional privacy concern, but built on a good security base and lets the user be the ultimate decision-maker," said Hester.
------quote off-----------

While it's true that the devil is in the details, and we don't know a lot about how this will be implemented, I have a hard time seeing how this a bad thing. Unlike the PIII ID feature, which provides no security at all for the user, this has the potential to provide a lot of security for the user. The reality is that encryption based digital signature techniques, which this chip will help enable, are the only way to protect people from identity theft online.

The big question is how avaiable is the documentation going to be. If it will be possible to write linux drivers and (say for example) allow GPG to perform RSA using licensed hardware, that seems like it could be a good thing. Depending on what the API looks like for this thing, it may be possible to turn around the "strong" signature capability and turn it into a "strong" encryption engine. Now that would be cool...

If you're reading this, you may have a MAC address (1)

mindslip (16677) | about 15 years ago | (#1656487)

Ok, modems are exempt. Still...

I don't recall ever being *without* some sort of ID.

And honestly, I've given away so much to online registrations at this point that there's really not much point trying to hide now. I like my nickname too much to change it and re-do all my accounts, so I guess until I next shift houses and don't forward my snail mail, or drop my email address and get a new one, I'm skunked.

Having seen some of the ins and outs of the legal system, I can say I'd *rather* be tracked when doing something *legal*, than *anonymous* when doing something *illegal*.

Where did this "Privacy Is The Be All And End All" mind set come from? My mom and dad used to be able to hear me with my girlfriends at night... they had the good taste not to mention anything. I'm sure most people *don't* snoop.


Ubiquitous? What about the "outlaws"? (1)

ashpool7 (18172) | about 15 years ago | (#1656489)

The article stated that IBM probably would want the system to be "ubiquitous" and therefore slapped on every motherboard in existence. Yeah right. There were a number of hardware vendors willing to dyke out the PSN from the BIOS when the P3 squabble came about. There were even ones that were completely against the idea in the first place.

So what if (I'll use my fave vendor in this example) FIC refuses to put this "ubiquitous" chip in their motherboards. What if VIA thinks this is a stupid idea from so-called industry leader IBM, and declines to support it in the chipsets. Then what?

The chip dies and nobody's going to care!! Why? Since when have you seen somewhere the PSN is required to complete a transaction? Nowhere! Retailers aren't stupid, they know by supporting legacy hardware they get more customers. If just one slightly big name vendor refuses to support the chip, the whole system goes under. As the system propagates over the years, FIC/VIA's motherboards make up a huge userbase of people who don't have the chip. So when it gets to be somewhat reasonable to assume people have the chip, you have a couple hundred thousand or million users who will be left out. Will retailers lose that many customers? Heck no! They aren't going to tell potential e-commerce customers "To use this site, you must replace your motherboard". That would be a HUGE turnoff.

Until there is a universially accepted (by EVERY vendor) standard for unique IDs (I pray to god that doesn't happen, but MAC addresses are allready here...), this idea will never fly.

And don't forget, it's not illegal to make your own programmable ID chip, is it? If it was, this topic would be moot.

Re:Wait a minute here... (2)

DragonHawk (21256) | about 15 years ago | (#1656490)

Ya know, I can only believe this is pure flamebait, so I'm an idiot for responding, but your description shows zero knowledge of how digital signatures work.

Well, perhaps you are an idiot, but I do know how asymmetric cryptography works.

Did it ever occur to you that this chip may implement the algorithms for key generation, message signing, and encryption, while the keys themselves get stored on disk, and fed to the chip using device drivers?

As I said, like "PGP on a chip". Did you read me post at all?

No, I do not know how this chip from IBM works, but neither do you, as far as I can tell. Meanwhile, you and a bunch of other people are doing a headless-chicken-scene, which never helps.

Wait a minute here... (5)

DragonHawk (21256) | about 15 years ago | (#1656491)

Has anybody tried reading the article?

The features of the security chip include key encryption, which encodes text messages, and "digital signatures", which act as unique "watermarks" that identify the sender of the document.

Where in that sentence does is say there is a unique ID embedded in each and every chip? To me, it sounds more like IBM is marketing a hardware-driven security engine, a "PGP on a chip", if you will. I do not see how this translates to a unique serial number on each and every chip.

(Whether you want to trust IBM's security implementation is another matter entirely.)

What does this have to do with My Rights Online? If every hardware crypto product on the market is a violation of the First Amendment to the US Constitution, Slashdot is going to become awful darn cluttered.

When I first read about YRO, I thought it seemed like a good idea. The Internet is a new medium in many ways, and I do not want the government panicking and trying to restrict it. However, YRO seems less about keeping a sensible eye on things and more about paranoid sensationalism, written by anarchists who think that all laws must be bad, all corporations must be bad, everything not invented here must be bad, ahhhhhhhhhhh!

Even if there is a unique ID embedded in this chip, so what? A Unique ID for each computer can be a useful thing. For example, if you are trying to implement property control in a large organization, an electronic serial number would be a Godsend.

The problem with Intel's serial number was twofold: First, they were marketing it for "secure online transactions", something which it is not appropriate for, and second, they tried to smuggle it into every system made, turned on by default. That is not good at all. But there is zero evidence that this scenario is even possible with IBM's chip, let alone going to happen.

Please. Keep your head. Do not react first and then stop to think, or you are just as guilty as the government for panicking when something new comes along.

(And before you tell me "Nobody is forcing you to read YRO": There is thing thing called feedback...)

Inevitability (3)

Kaa (21510) | about 15 years ago | (#1656492)

I don't like this idea at all and if one of my future computers will have such a chip inside, I'll take major measures (soldering iron included) to make it not perform as intended. However, I'm not blind and can see the writing on the wall. Hardware authentication makes too much sense to be ignored. Given all the security scares (real and imagined), the government and corporations will want reassurances of security and a hardware solution will appeal (with reason) to them. Besides, I don't really object to hardware authentication on, say, my office box. Not that it can successfully pretend it is something else anyway... :> But as to my home machine: not bloody likely I'll install this thing willingly.

For my fellow paranoids (we know who you are!): keep in mind that all ethernet devices, including the NIC in your machine, already have a global unique identifier -- MAC.


Re:Use your brains, people. (1)

Another MacHack (32639) | about 15 years ago | (#1656494)

The MAC address does not get sent out over the internet, just over your Ethernet LAN. The only MAC address the web server is going to receive is theMAC address of the router that gave it the packet from the internet.

Re:No Increase In Threat (1)

Mentat21 (36271) | about 15 years ago | (#1656496)

Unless Microsoft embeds it into every Word document you write. (For those who use Word, it does in fact do this. You can download a utility from Microsoft to remove the marks in the files on your disk, but I believe it still adds the MAC address to all new files.)

already has it. (1)

Zurk (37028) | about 15 years ago | (#1656497)

I've seen IBM aptiva computers which have unique hardcoded serial numbers into the BIOS of the system. In addition they have the ability to burn the system password into the motherboard (no you cant remove it.."permanently" burn is more like it). I imagine this will simply allow you to interrogate the number over the web rather than locally as it is now.

Re:All the people fussing are simply ignorant. (1)

Zurk (37028) | about 15 years ago | (#1656498)

you can spoof MAc addresses and theyre not unique. My MAC address is actually changed directly via linux /proc filesystem. see for full details on how to do this.

Re:Use your brains, people. (1)

Zurk (37028) | about 15 years ago | (#1656499)

no you dumb shit. MAC addresses are NOT UNIQUE. YOU CAN CHANGE THEM WITH SOFTWARE. At least READ people..there are a million posts above telling you the same thing.

Re:What this sounds like... (1)

Manax (41161) | about 15 years ago | (#1656500)

I agree this sounds like an encryption chip, but I have to ask then, "What's the point?" I mean, where is the benefit of a hardware impl versus a run of the mill software implementation?

"real security" (2)

_Sprocket_ (42527) | about 15 years ago | (#1656501)

This chip isn't being marketed at all as any "real" security solution. The article explicitely states this. In the event a consumer needs a more secure solution, IBM has add-ons and other products to suit them. The cryptography, they say, should be adequate for 80% of their customers. I agree.

Why shouldn't a customer expect a "'real' security solution" to be "adequate"? Put another way - why bother with security if it is, in fact, not "real" security?

This "solution" just leads to a false sense of security. Furthermore, it leads to confusion and sensationalism when that false security is shattered by a compromise.

unlike hardware... (1)

Afterimage (44695) | about 15 years ago | (#1656505)

The implication held here scares me:

Unlike previous security measures that rely on software ''firewalls'' that filter out unauthorized users of information, IBM has developed a security chip embedded within the computer hardware, which, it says, adds additional levels of security.

Now, the suits *may* ask, "Why do we need that pricey firewall when IBM's got this hardware security solution? We could standardize on that."

Hopefully, the smarter sysadmins will respond to the sentiment with, "Well, yes, I suppose we could dump the firewall and rely only on an untested hardware chip and our desktop operating system's inherent security."

Please. Well tuned firewalls, carefully administered networks and attentive sys admins are going to do a lot more than any ID chip.

As for identifying users and protecting digital documents, the pre-existing software solutions are well tested. GPG and PGP are the best examples. What's more, they've already got the support of nearly everyone.

End rant

Sheesh! (1)

bifrost (45323) | about 15 years ago | (#1656506)

All of you are being ridiculous. Ever used a Sun box? *GHASP* they have a hardwired host identifier built into them!!! AND OHMYGOD YOU CAN TYPE A COMMAND AND SEE THE IDENTIFIER!!!! OHMYGOD YOUR ETHERNET HAS A HARDWARE IDENTIFIER TOO!!!!

This kind of paranoia only matters if you're using a browser/app that will send back that identifier on request. I'm going to doubt that Netscape will, I'd be pretty assured that MSIE will, and I'm *positive* people will come up with ActiveX tools to get that Host identifier. And the BIGGEST thing is that it will probably only affect windows users aversely because they can't get source code to their OS...

Re:Wait a minute here... (2)

Pedersen (46721) | about 15 years ago | (#1656507)

Ya know, I can only believe this is pure flamebait, so I'm an idiot for responding, but your description shows zero knowledge of how digital signatures work.

Digital signatures, on the whole use public and private keys. These public and private keys are unique numbers, somewhere on the order of a few hundred digits long (usually). In order for a packet to be signed, that packet must have access to the private key. In order for a packet to be verified, the receiver must have access to the public key.

Now, think about what's been said:

  1. Keys are unique numbers, several hundred digits long.
  2. Both private and public keys are reuired for signatures to work (signing and verification).
  3. It follows, then, that the chip must have both the public key, and the private key, on it at the same time.
  4. Backtracking through definitions, we see that the private key is a unique number, and it must be embedded into the chip.

Now, the number isn't a true "serial number", simply because it doesn't count up in order (in fact, due to other facts, not mentioned here), it can not count up.

Instead, we have something even better: a unique, cryptographically secure (supposedly) identifier attached to each and every computer which Big Blue sells. If there is a backdoor in these chips, then the government will now have a way of tracking, and reading, everything which gets encrypted/signed by these chips.

Can you see the problem yet?

What's the big deal... (1)

Hard_Code (49548) | about 15 years ago | (#1656508)

I still don't get what the big deal is about these unique numbers. First of all, you, as a user, would have to AGREE to physically run the software that is accessing this stuff. This is no different than handling unknown binaries. I don't see how, short of running custom software on the client side, any malicious party could obtain your number. If you're running their software then you have either tacitly acknowledged the authenticity, or it's your fault for being stupid and running code of unknown origin right? I envision a plug-in which perhaps is authenticated itself by a certificate, which a site may require you to download. You download it, and then any time you want to purchase something from that site, the plugin runs and uses your unique hardware key. You still are AWARE of what's going on. You still have to acknowledge the execution of the software.

It's not like any punk can use a daemon dialer and magically obtain your number right?

Re: Security not Privacy (1)

Hard_Code (49548) | about 15 years ago | (#1656509)

This is supposedly for security of online transactions. I can't see how some trusted party could invade your privacy by simply knowing a unique id. It's just used for encryption while data is on the wire right? If you don't already trust the company, you aren't going to be running the software or transacting with them in the first place.

Re:No Increase In Threat (1)

junster (59917) | about 15 years ago | (#1656511)

Except that you are forgetting that the MAC address does not leave the subnet that it is on, and can be changed on a lot of NIC's out there.

It could be good as theft protection (1)

Gorimek (61128) | about 15 years ago | (#1656512)

Now that all PCs are on the internet, it would be pretty cool if it would transmit its ID now and then to some registry of stolen PCs. If it was done right it would make stolen PCs almost useless, and we would have a better world.

The problem of big brother-ism is real, but not insolvable. You need this to be handled by a trusted and independent non government organization that is charted with the sole purpose of retrieveing stolen PCs, nothing else.

I swiss banks can keep a secret, others can too!

Yeh, but it gets unsellable (1)

Gorimek (61128) | about 15 years ago | (#1656513)

Sure, but if a stolen PC could not be safely used on the internet, the market for it almost vanishes.

I mean, how do you sell a PC and make sure it will not get online...?

Hey, do you have an Ethernet NIC? (2)

Prometheus_NG (61422) | about 15 years ago | (#1656514)

So let's get a few things straight:

1. Unique serial numbers have been with us for a long time. (The MAC address of your Ethernet card is unique to your computer. Moreover, the tools are already in place to track your computer using this identifier, I.E. arp.)

2. Unique ID's have many useful functions besides violating, your already non-existent, privacy. (Just to start with, tracking is not necessarily bad. Anybody who has had a laptop stolen from them probably knows what I am talking about.)

3. The real threat is not that we can be tracked, it is that it may be done without our consent and in secrecy. (There are more than enough trojan java and activeX applets that will track every web site you visit AND record your passwords already out there.)

Don't fight the technology, demand a better implementation. Anytime something like this comes up, just make sure the implementation is open and well documented.

convenience is the great enemy (3)

konstant (63560) | about 15 years ago | (#1656515)

Convenience is the great enemy of privacy. Corporations like IBM, Intel, Microsoft, and Sun will always be able to justify (or perhaps legitimately believe) that the convenience of ID stamping or data broadcasting for their latest nifty upgrade-inducing "feature" outweighs the small decrease in consumer privacy. And because most of us are lazy - yes, even you noble Slashdotter - we will ultimately accept these small intrusions in the name of preserving our free time and sanity. Can you imagine living life in American without a SSN? It is legal I believe, and it would indeed greatly inhance your personal privacy, but it is incredibly inconvenient. What about eschewing license plates, and therefore cars? Possible. Not convenient. The process will continue as long as we are blinded by our love of "progress", as defined by the availability of neat new gadgets everywhere we go. Real progress is social change than enhances lives, not merely technology that makes life more ornate. Fat chance of changing our culture, though.

The Irony, and Lifespan of a Chip? (2)

DanMcS (68838) | about 15 years ago | (#1656521)

``People from outside (of your organization) can get at your software,'' said Anne Gardner, general manager of desktop systems for IBM. ``People from the outside can't get to your hardware.''

The funny thing is, anyone _can_ get to my software, including me. It's open source. But only IBM, or their designated manufacturers, or people who send a signal to my computer to get my "digital signature", can get at my hardware, excluding me. I like systems I can control a bit more.

On another note. Isn't an embedded security device likely to go obsolete pretty rapidly? Then what, we have to buy a whole new motherboard instead of just installing the latest version of the software? That sucks.

Hmm, the article just says that the chip is embedded in the hardware, somewhere. I wonder where? How easy would it be to pry the sucker off? ;) Or, I could just not buy an IBM. Yeah, that's the ticket.

So its in your computer.... (2)

DeadSea (69598) | about 15 years ago | (#1656522)

Big deal. For it actually to be used against you, it would have to be actually transmitted to the commerce site, or what have you that wants it. It seems to me that its your web browser where this feature shauld be controlled. Given that web browsers allow you to turn cookies off, they should allow you to not transmit ID#s as well. Heck you can always back up to Netscape 2.0 if you want that won't know anything about the IDs.

Besides, if you have an ethernet card, you already have a unique ID in your computer hardware. Its called your MAC address. Microsoft uses it to uniquely stamp your word documents. (Thats how they traced down the mellissa virus author.) The misuse of it is all at the software level. I can't imagine anybody writing free software that will use IDs like this. I'll keep away from MS thank you.

There is no anonymity on the net. (2)

pcx (72024) | about 15 years ago | (#1656523)

Looks like we're in for yet another privacy invasion "debate". I use the term debate very tongue in cheek because everyone will point to the serial number and scream big brother.

People who don't do things they shouldn't have no fear of "privacy invasion". But with porn being the true fulfillment of e-commerce on the web and the occasional illicit mp3 download it's a safe bet that a sizable percentage of the internet going public have justifiable reasons for not being tracked.

What everyone seems to forget is there is no anonymity on the net thanks to a little thing called an IP address.

Did you download a song from alt.binaries.sounds.mp3? Or maybe that latest nude in*? Your ISP knows exactly who you are. Your IP address is logged along with your user name and password. Your user name is in their billing records - complete with your name, address, phone number, and probably your credit card number.

They could also care less unless someone is calling to say you broke something or you spammed slashdot or something.

Maybe you've visited a ftp site and downloaded a movie. If the ftp site was a sting operation then they've got your number and can force your ISP to turn that number into a name. The same is true for web sites. If you downloaded a movie you're probably broadband and have a greater chance of having a fixed IP address, in which case you already have a serial number even if you use AMD.

Having run a large and successful website I can state absolutely that after 100 unique visitors a day people stop being people and start being demographics. The real life corollary is that everyone has a driver's license and a social security number (and credit card numbers and all that) but even though it's possible to do, you have a better chance of winning the lottery than having someone piece together your every move. So the only true privacy we have is safety in numbers.

Privacy is and always has been an illusion and never more than on the web. The people who want to embed serial numbers in your computers realize this. Shoot -- every slashdot reader should know that given time, determination, and lots of search warrants anyone can be tracked down. The elite slashdoters can do it without warrants and the best of the best can probably do it without using a single z to describe the process. So if there's no anonymity then the good of serial numbers far outweighs the "bad" (mainly giving you a false sense of security which is bad in its own right).

A similar fuss was made over the introduction of caller id. Caller ID still went through and guess what? I haven't gotten a prank phone call since it was introduced. Like caller ID, this too is going to happen. There are too many good reasons for it not to. Forging, changing, or blocking the serial number will also be a very easy. The program to do it will probably have a z in it though. "SerialZ no more" or something. Look for it at that zero-day-warez site near you. :-)

Stupid! (1)

TGmentor (73169) | about 15 years ago | (#1656524)

You have got to be kidding!? Don't these people ever learn?

Intel took a lot of flack for what they did in the PIII. In fact, as I recall Arizona or Nevada (which state the Intel factory is in) was actually going to ban intel from the state for that stunt.

Why would IBM do soemthing that is so damned stupid?!

Whoa! (2)

technos (73414) | about 15 years ago | (#1656525)

This sounds more like a e-commerce marketing ploy than an evil plot to spy on us. IBM is simply marketing for the same audience that buys into 'Blue'; AOLusers. They're selling it to the uninformed. For the rest of us, the chip is useless. It may provide some limited form of encryption, (read small key) but which of us would actually trust it over GPG? Watermarking? Not as reliable as a Verisign registered key, I'm sure.
Plus, we can be sure that the possible 'Big Brother' applications of it will only be included in MS products, so we're all safe! Right?

Same story, different source (1)

Master-of-Sloth (82756) | about 15 years ago | (#1656526)

No mention of id's in this one. mabey Reuters just getting the wrong end of the stick

That is the whole point of /. (1)

Rares Marian (83629) | about 15 years ago | (#1656527)

This isn't a chat room folks. Go out and get some info.

Besides regarding info-gathering and hysteria, we can multitask can't we?

MAC addr. not guaranteed. . . (1)

JSBiff (87824) | about 15 years ago | (#1656528)

to be unique. After all, many Ethernet adapters will allow you to go in and change the MAC address if you like. Not that I like any system that uses security based on the machine and not the user. Honestly, everytime I hear about some sort of hardware id system I just shake my head. . . what if I want to make a purchase from a friend's computer, what about people using Library/public computers? And as a previous writer pointed out, what's to stop a cracker from changing the browser/whatever software that sends the id so that it doesn't send his actual id. Stupid is all I can say from a pragmatic stand-point, big-brother aspects aside. (Not that the privacy issues aren't important; but others have written about that issue much better than I am able to)

Hidden files (1)

Redundant() (89068) | about 15 years ago | (#1656530)

What advantage does a hardware chip have over the setting of a hidden file? For most users product registrations have blown their privacy out the window long ago.

Privacy isn't the issue here, the issue is non-volatile vs semi-volatile identity mapping for e-commerce. Certainly your hardware can allready be profiled uniquely. I guess I am just not understanding what all the fuss is about.

Machine ID's and e-commerce (1)

Seth Finkelstein (90154) | about 15 years ago | (#1656531)

They're just too useful. Software-makers want to machine-lock their applications. Websites want to track people. Let's not even talk about what the government wants to do. I suspect soon a business without these sort of machines will be like one where no-one has credit cards. Not illegal by any stretch of the imagination, but very uncommon.

Use your brains, people. (1)

Dirtside (91468) | about 15 years ago | (#1656532)

Every ethernet card EVER MADE has a unique 48-bit ID. This ID is attached to *every* Ethernet packet that the card sends, including ones received by web sites. If someone really wants to track you, it doesn't matter whether you have an Intel P3 processor, an AMD, or IBM's new maybe-it's-Big-Brother-and-maybe-it's-not-but-peop le-naturally-freak-at-anything-which-sma cks-of-Big-Brother-so-who-cares chip. Sheesh, people, use your brains. The Intel thing was a nonissue to begin with, let alone this IBM stuff. Every piece of hardware of any kind you've ever owned has a unique serial number! Toasters! Weed whackers! Barbecues! Cars! Televisions! Hard drives! Get over it.

--- I'm goin' Dirtside, Ma!

My $.02 (1)

TheJet (93435) | about 15 years ago | (#1656533)

So are they planning on storing a "private" key in hardware??

1. What happens if your key gets compromised??

2. Are they going to have software which allows you to regenerate a private key?? How are you going to be able to communicate to the powers that be that your key has changed, and not only that, you could just change your key and all your new transmissions would be unreadable...

3. Better yet, J. Smith over here invents a utility to reflash the chip with an arbitrary "identifier" and people can now pose as you :(...

Is this type of thing ever going to become a feature that anyone wants?? And even if people wanted it, how could you possibly make it more secure than a software based solution??

I wonder... (1)

Felix Da Rat (93827) | about 15 years ago | (#1656535)

If it will have a setting for "Anonymous Coward" on the chip?

Personally, I think the idea isn't bad if the idea was just used for sales and had no practical purpose, but if they actually try and tag me like a hibernating bear, well, that might make me cranky.

No Increase In Threat (1)

darkatom (94914) | about 15 years ago | (#1656536)

Any machine that has an ethernet card already has a unique ID: the ethernet address. So the new processor ID / machine ID stuff, though annoying, really does not increase the threat to privacy for a large number of our machines i.e., those with ethernet adaptors.

oh goody! proprietary encryption! (1)

Mister Attack (95347) | about 15 years ago | (#1656539)

So, we have from IBM a chip that is supposed to make transactions "secure". My best guess is that it uses some proprietary encryption algorithm to do this. The problem here is that word "proprietary." Attempting to keep the crypto algorithms secret only ensures that there will be bugs and weaknesses, because the algorithm was not subject to a massive review in the way that PGP was. Can't IBM learn from Microsoft's mistakes in the field of encryption? I would be much more impressed if IBM made these computers with chips designed to quickly do PGP or some other public-key algorithm known to be secure. I don't trust proprietary encryption, and neither should you. If you really want more info, check out the RSA Labs Crypto FAQ [] . It's an excellnt source of information on all aspects of crypto and security.
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