Why Intel Bought McAfee – It’s Not About Security in the Silicon

Intel’s acquisition of McAfee last year puzzled many analysts. We said it was about securing the Internet of Things.

In an interview with Forbes’ Andy Greenberg, McAfee CEO David Dewalt talks about the purchase and explains why it happened. Dewalt emphasizes the IoT angle, but more notably emphasizes that the security innovations will happen at the software level, not the hardware level. “We’re not embedding anything into the silicon,” he says. “What we’re doing is utilizing features that exist today with the technologies McAfee has to secure the stack in a way that’s never been done before.”

He says Intel has already added security features into the silicon. Dewalt told Greenberg:

Block, kill, encrypt, locate features, disaster recovery features. These are all in Intel technologies today.

It was much more the idea of putting security lower down in the software stack that led us to acquisition conversations.

Dewalt also points to Intel’s Wind River acquisition. The Wind River operating system powers devices ranging from ATMs to airplanes, and McAfee is working to build security into the OS and BIOS.

He says this isn’t about lock-in, however. According to him, competitors have the same low-level access that McAfee has. “The silicon instruction sets have been published, for example, the I-Series platforms for CPUs, the Xeon processors, the vPro technology that Intel has,” he says “This opportunity to integrate and utilize these features has been around for everybody.”

That makes me wonder what the strategic purpose of Intel having its own in-house security company is, though (aside from the revenue element, which Dewalt discusses). Perhaps Intel felt not enough companies were taking advantage of the technology?

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