Intel is developing a “kill switch” for laptops that would enable the remote monitoring and disabling of devices, a disturbing prospect given the firm’s link with the National Security Agency.
“The chip giant is working on something call the Wireless Credential Exchange (WCE) with a number of partners. Its chips would communicate with Impinj’s Monza RFID chips to allow remote monitoring of devices via Burnside Digital’s IPTrak software,” writes ZD Net’s Sean Portnoy. “The result would be that these devices could be controlled to activate only when they reach their approved destination or within a specified location. If they don’t reach their destination or leave the approved area, they could be disabled.”
The technology is being marketed as a way of deterring theft but is likely to cause consternation amongst privacy advocates.
As we reported back in September, a more rudimentary version of the “kill switch” was actually added to Intel processors back in 2011 with the launch of the firm’s Anti Theft 3.0 platform. This technology also enabled Intel to snoop on computer activity via a 3G radio chip which can bypass hard drive encryption.
“These include out-of-band communications (communications that exist outside of the scope of anything the machine might be doing through an OS or hypervisor), monitoring and altering of incoming and outgoing network traffic, reports TG Daily. “In short, it operates covertly and snoops and potentially manipulates data.”
In a post-Snowden era, the idea of companies having remote access to a user’s PC represents a potential Pandora’s Box of privacy violation.
It is widely acknowledged by experts that the NSA already “has hardware level backdoors built into Intel and AMD processors.” Earlier this year during a Reddit online chat session, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich refused to answer a question about whether the NSA had backdoor access.
In December last year, developers of the FreeBSD operating system said that they could no longer trust Intel and Via’s chip-based cryptographic security, warning that there was a distinct possibility that the NSA had backdoor access.
The idea of companies having access to a “kill switch” with no opt out process takes power away from the individual and leaves the door ajar for governments to exploit such technology to target dissent, just as Turkey recently shut down Twitter in an attempt to cover-up a political scandal.
As we reported last week, all new Android and Windows phones will also include a “kill switch” in the name of protecting against theft.
Both Google and Apple have filed patents focused around the remote disabling of devices if photos are taken in law enforcement sensitive areas or at concerts, creating technological “dead zones” that could be used to disrupt political protests or derail unwanted news coverage.