New security for firmware

The more deeply security controls are embedded into a computer, the harder they are to circumvent. Phoenix Technologies has come up with a way to embed a command and control system into the BIOS of a mobile PC that will let an owner remotely control a computer, wherever it is.

'The machine can be turned into a brick with this,' said Phoenix Chief Technology Officer Gaurav Banga. That, of course, could be useful if your laptop PC has been stolen or turns up missing.

The product, FailSafe, lets the owner of a PC ' usually a laptop, although it could also be used on a desktop ' create a detailed policy of how and under what circumstances the computer can be used. If a computer finds itself connected to an inappropriate or unfamiliar network, or if a Global Positioning System chip communicates that it is in the wrong places, services can be restricted, the computer's data can be encrypted or the computer could be prevented from booting.

FailSafe will connect periodically with a central command center hosted by Phoenix to report its location and ask for instructions. The owner uses a Web interface with the command center to get the last location of a stolen computer and issue instructions. The owner might, for instance, want to retrieve an important document from the drive before shutting down the computer for good. Or he might ask the PC to use its built-in camera to snap a picture of the thief.

Banga said several manufacturers have expressed interest in FailSafe for their next product releases, and he expects to see PCs with the feature available in late 2008. The service probably would be offered on a subscription basis with computers containing the firmware, and Banga said it would be fail safe.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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