Chip Developments: Remote Access and Wireless USB

Loraine Lawson reports on two intriguing developments in the PC world this week.


The first is about Intel's Active Management Technology, a chip that stays on even when your computer is off, allowing IT workers to remotely turn on the PC or install updates or patches while it's off. There are about 250 businesses already using the technology, which shipped on Intel's vPro and laptops with the Centrino Pro.


The article goes into some detail about how the chip works and its use in the business space. What's new, however, is that Intel wants to use the chip in consumer computers, perhaps allowing ISPs to install patches and provide emergency back-up to consumers.


While Intel envisions this as a subscription service, privacy advocates have concerns. Intel notes that the chip only offers a very limited view of the computer and doesn't provide access to anything detailed or personal. In short, it's looking at the files running the computer - not at your Word files.


Why should you care? No one mentions this, but I wonder about the security ramifications. It's one thing for your IT department to peak into your PC; it's quite another for an ISP to be able to do the same thing for your remote work laptop. And if writing about IT security for years has taught me nothing else, it's taught me that what can be used for good can be used for bad. Imagine if hackers could remotely turn on your PC by tapping this technology? What would they then do with a running, connected PC or laptop?


Intel announced the technology last fall and there apparently isn't an exploit yet - and maybe there won't be. Assuming I'm just paranoid, it would be nice to have a way to break into my PC and recover information should my hardware fail.


The other tidbit of chip news is that chip designer Alereon has built a chip that would enable wireless USB. This isn't a technology breakthrough, so much a legal coup - the holdup on wireless USB so far has been the inability to find a frequency band legal all over the world.


The chip, called the AL5100, uses ultra-wideband, which is relatively uncrowded as airspace goes. That means it should be able to yield high data transfer rates with low power usage at a range of about 30 feet, which is exactly what your digital camera, iPod or mouse will need to cut free from its wires.

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