Nov 18, 2020 - Technology

Microsoft adding security chip to Windows machines

Ina Fried
An image of the Microsoft logo being lifted by balloons.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Microsoft said Tuesday it is working with chipmakers AMD, Intel and Qualcomm to bring a new security processor to Windows machines. Dubbed Pluton, the security chip is based on work done for the Xbox One and designed to bring an added layer of security.

Why it matters: A number of difficult-to-patch chip flaws in recent years have left computers vulnerable to attack. It also comes as many of the biggest tech companies, including Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon, are increasingly designing their own silicon to augment traditional processors.

How it works: Designed by Microsoft, the Pluton module would actually go inside the main processor made by Intel, AMD and Qualcomm and expands on an existing security approach, known as the Trusted Platform Module, that is already found in modern PCs.

  • The Trusted Platform approach relies on a small separate chip known as the TPM. Microsoft said it can achieve even greater security with Pluton by integrating the security function directly into the PC’s main processor.

Between the lines: Apple has been expanding its silicon as well, and includes a roughly similar security chip, called the T2, that has been added into recent Macs.

  • Of course, Apple has now taken things a step further, using its own processor to power the Mac, starting with the M1-based Mac mini, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro that ship this week.
  • Yes, but: Researchers found a flaw in Apple's T2, so the existence of such additional security processors is not a panacea.

What's next: Expect to see more chip work from Microsoft, as well as the other Big Tech companies, as they look for greater control over the hardware in their ecosystems.

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