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Why security innovation starts with hardware

By Tom Garrison, VP and General Manager of Client Security Strategy & Initiatives at Intel

Over the last decade, hardware has become a critical part of the security ecosystem. If hardware isn’t secure, then the applications and technologies running on them cannot be secure either. But as security and attacks get more complex, the stakes around hardware security innovation are increasing. Businesses are expected to spend $172 billion on security in 2022. Along with this investment, they expect hardware vendors to deliver new security capabilities that protect below the operating system, within the operating system, as well as delivering hardware optimized threat detection capabilities. Put simply, they expect security innovation to start in hardware. But what does that mean and how is it being done?

The goal of hardware security innovation is to reduce the attack surface for customers and partners that rely on hardware platforms and silicon. But many organizations still heavily rely on software-based solutions. While these systems are important, they’re often easier to subvert or compromise. Innovation starts with creating a defensive bedrock in hardware, which means security that’s rooted in the silicon itself. This is often broken into three categories: foundational security (focused on identity and integrity), workload and data protection (providing a trusted execution environment for data in use), and software reliability (moving select security capabilities to hardware).

For foundational security vendors are working to ensure platforms boot up properly and run as expected with capabilities like enhanced cryptography, firmware guards, BIOS protections, memory encryption and more. Workload protections are focusing on creating trusted execution environments that isolate data in use with technologies like software guard extensions that harden security and verification of data or virtualization technologies that protect endpoint applications and data. And software reliability innovations are working to protect against common and emerging software attacks with embedded threat detection technologies, anomalous behavior detection and more. All these areas are key to identifying threats faster and more accurately, especially as attackers are increasingly looking to insert exploit code at the firmware level.

To better understand how hardware-enabled security solutions can support organization’s security posture and enable innovation in the creation and deployment of cybersecurity solutions, Intel recently partnered with the Ponemon Institute on a study that went to more than 1,400 IT decision-makers focused on security around the world. Here are five key learnings from that study (but I encourage you to read the entire report for complete details). 

  • While only 36% of respondents say their organization’s current cybersecurity protocols use hardware-assisted security solutions, 47% say their organizations will adopt hardware-assisted security solutions in the next six months (24%) or 12 months (23%). 
  • Of those same 36% of respondents using hardware-assisted security solutions, 85% say hardware and/or firmware-based security is a high or very high priority in their organization. And 64% say it is important for a vendor to offer both hardware- and software-assisted security capabilities.
  • 65% of respondents are proactively taking steps to ensure the integrity of data with improved hardware or firmware-level security solutions. 
  • The top areas of focus for security innovation within organizations today are security automation (41% of respondents), security at the silicon level (40% of respondents), cloud migration (40% of respondents) and education and training (38% of respondents).
  • 64% percent of respondents say their organizations are more likely to purchase technologies and services from technology providers that are leading edge with respect to innovation.

But innovation is more than just product. It’s investing in people, process, and partners. It takes a comprehensive approach, especially when it comes to security. Hardware can often be a large, diverse ecosystem. Having an open approach to security fosters the best security outcomes. It’s about trust, and trust is rooted in transparency. Intel has developed an inclusive, transparent, and shared vision for security that enables a framework for innovation. The success of this framework is due in large part to the diverse ecosystem of technology contributors and partners we support, and the level of collaboration that we encourage from all participants.

Intel follows this framework closely, building security and privacy into products from concept to design. This includes Intel® Software Guard Extensions (Intel® SGX) which helps protect data at all stages by performing computation in a hardware-based Trusted Execution Environment (TEE). Additionally, Intel has a strong history of improving software reliability by building silicon enhancements realized through logic inside the processor, with capabilities such as Intel Threat Detection Technology (Intel® TDT) and Intel Control-flow Enforcement Technology (Intel® CET). 

Adding to this, one key initiative Intel recently launched is Project Circuit Breaker, an expansion of its Bug Bounty program that brings together an elite community of hackers to hunt bugs in firmware, hypervisors, GPUs, chipsets and more. In fact, according to our recently released 2021 Product Security Report, 93% of vulnerabilities addressed in Intel products were a direct result of Intel’s proactive investment in security assurance.

At Intel, we believe security innovation starts with hardware, but it’s so much more than that. Which is why we’re working throughout our ecosystem with customers, partners, and the broader security community to drive comprehensive security.