Intel's new processors have a remote kill switch (Anti-Theft 3.0)

Published: 2010-12-19
Last Updated: 2010-12-19 14:17:39 UTC
by Raul Siles (Version: 2)
7 comment(s)

According to Techspot (Thanks Richard!), Intel's new Core processors (Sandy Bridge), that will hit the market for desktops and laptops early 2011, have a remote kill switch (called Anti-Theft v3.0). This technology embedded in the CPU allows the user to remotely disable the processor through 3G, that is, even when the computer is not connected to the Internet or it switched off.

Intel's goal is to offer the user the capability to shut down remotely the computer if it is lost or stolen. Somehow, this is similar to what most modern mobile device platforms offer today to remotely lock, show a message, or wipe  a stolen or lost device, such as Windows Mobile 6.5, iPhone, iPad... I guess that, in any case, the thief will be able to replace the CPU with a new one and make the computer work again. Will be Intel planning to add remote disk wiping capabilities from the processor too? ;)

Definitely, this new feature is something to pay attention to, as potential vulnerabilities in the implementation can open the door to new remote attacks, starting with DoS. The debate is open!


It seems that the Intel Anti-Theft announcement is creating a significant debate on The Net. This ISC post simply tried to catch your attention about new technologies and features we need to keep an eye on, and it didn't reflect this will be a feature for mass p0wn4g3. Trying to clarify this technology a little bit, Intel Anti-Theft seems to be associated to Intel vPro (TM) CPUs only and the associated chipsets, plus capabilities on the BIOS , firmware/software, and a capable 3G subscription. The kill switch can be reversed (enabling the computer back without physical damage) by providing proper authentication through a 3G heartbeat, a local passphrase or one-time token.

Some extra reading for those interested on this technology:

Raul Siles
Founder and Senior Security Analyst with Taddong

Keywords: Intel Remote
7 comment(s)


I guess intel's acquisition of McAfee might be a hint for the company's policy in the next year and the market it is trying to capture. Although I believe it will be really interesting to see some vulnerabilities as the effect would be huge in case of mass deployment of such chips. :)
What does "p0wn4g3" mean? I tried googling it but it came up blank. :(
Don't you just hate all the txt words. :grumpy:
Sorry: p0wn4ag3 is the "leet" speak for pownage, meaning the target computer is owned, controlled, or compromised by the attacker. That is, "mass p0wn4g3" referred to a massive compromise of vulnerable computers.
I just read the brief techinical article about this new tecnology Intel AT. And I can see a couple of vectors of attack, one of special attention is one of the detection mechanisms that is used to put the devide in stolen mode: Missed-checkins, in which basically if the laptop can not communicate with the central server every interval of time, then, it will go into stolen mode and become useless. What about the network been unavailable?? High network latency or delay?? What about the network been under a DoS?? a bad rule at the FW or router?? This could be a double edge sword technology if it is not properly implemented! My two niquel cents!!
1. I would love the ability to remotely shut down and disable a computer I own.

2. I would hate to give the ability to shut down and disable my computer that I own and have in my possession to some malicious remote party.

Given how the computer industry has done so well at implementing this stuff up to this point, the second is more likely to happen in the lifetime of ownership of a system that has this capability. And the mitigation that will prevent the second likelihood will be usable by the savvier thief, preventing the first instance a good portion of the time.
Raul it's not 'leet' it's 'l33t'

Thank you ;)
Any "remote kill switch" that isn't 100% user-controllable and manageable by me, the end-user makes me very, very nervous.

What's to stop law enforcement from deciding that they don't like what I'm doing and using a special key to shut down my system?

I like the old Computer Lojack for laptops. I mean old, too, like five years ago. It just did phone home and you had to track it down yourself. There was no remote kill switch to exploit.

I imagine it will be tied to an encrypted hard drive key before long (like the iPhone) so they can remotely "wipe" the drive by making it unreadable.

Another wonderful bit of tech to be used to terrorize the population.

Thank goodness "the cloud" is becoming more and more accessible.

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