New Dell Notebooks Sport DRM-Integration Hardware

Jeff Berg
SILICON VALLEY — Computer manufacturer Dell has introduced three new notebooks into its Latitude line, targeted at business and government users and featuring integrated Trusted Platform Module that allows on-the-fly encryption and decryption.

Dell is touting the platform as a new way for business users to make sure that all information on their hard drive is encrypted.

The Trusted Platform Module was developed using technology from the Trusted Computing Group, which sports Microsoft, Intel, IBM and several other industry giants as members and has drawn criticism from computer experts recently for possible censorship concerns that the new technology, originally invented to allow create digital rights management-integrated processors, might allow.

According to a white page published by Dell, the TPM provides a bevy of cryptographic capabilities, including hashing, random number generation, asymmetric key generation, and asymmetric encryption and decryption. The technology also uses unique root keys that are specific to each processor and TPM-aware software will be able to match software licenses to specific CPU keys.

“The original motivation [for Trusted Computing] was digital rights management,” said Ross Anderson, a professor of security engineering and the leader of the security group at the University of Cambridge’s computer laboratory. “Disney will be able to sell you DVDs that will decrypt and run on a TC platform, but which you won’t be able to copy. The music industry will be able to sell you music downloads that you won’t be able to swap. They will be able to sell you CDs that you’ll only be able to play three times, or only your birthday. All sorts of new marketing possibilities will open up.”

The problem, according to Anderson, comes when the Trusted Computing Platforms are used to track and “shut off” files created using specific computers.

“The potential for abuse extends far beyond commercial bullying and economic warfare into political censorship,” Anderson said. “First, some well-intentioned police force will get an order against a pornographic picture of a child or a manual on how to sabotage railroad signals. All TC-compliant PCs will delete, and perhaps report, these bad documents.

“Then a litigant in a libel or copyright case will get a civil court order against an offending document,” Anderson said. “A dictator’s secret police could punish the author of a dissident leaflet by deleting everything she ever created using that system – her new book, her tax return, even her kids’ birthday cards.”

Dell’s new Latitudes notebooks, the D410, D610 and D810, also offers faster Pentium M processors, the new PCI Express bus architecture, Tri-Metal chassis and additional USB ports.