Intel Releases New Hardware-Based Encryption

Encryption can play a vital role in a secure network, but algorithms can tax processor power. Encrypted networking can be slower than molasses in January. Intel Corp.( released a new family of PRO/100 S Security adapters to help ease the flow.

A secure network restricts who can and cannot access a network, but the data on a network is often open to all. Unintended network users with packet sniffers or other utilities can intercept critical transfers. Encryption prevents these rogue users from intercepting data by garbling information and rendering it unreadable.

There is a cost. Software encryption running on the main processor taxes computer performance.

The PRO/100 S hardware adapters provide an encryption coprocessor that performs encryption tasks, while the motherboard can perform normally. "We see a 4-1 ratio in performance when encryption is done on the coprocessor," says Tim Dunn, business unit manager at Intel.

The solution, consisting of both server and client components, encrypts data moving across a secure network. Both components are necessary to send and receive encrypted data.

With software encryption, only specific transfers can be encrypted because of the hit performance takes. The new adapters, however, allow encryption to operate nearly invisibly. "Transparent performance is our goal with PRO/100S," Dunn says.

With the Intel addition, a network can run encrypted material as a matter of course. For example, a finance department can reside on the same network as the rest of an organization, but remain inaccessible because of encryption.

Virtual private networks (VPN) will also benefit from the PRO/100 S adapters. Security is vital on VPNs since they operate on the Internet, where unauthorized users are more likely to intercept messages. Software encryption with VPN proxies often cause the connection to run slowly. Intel's encryption adapters allow users to securely access the network without constant reminders of being in the network hinterlands.

PRO/100 S will be available as an upgrade and will be integrated into OEM machines.

The new adapters employ the nascent IPSec standard, a standard for networking security, optimized for Windows 2000. Intel's adapters employ public key encryption.