Intel's Authenticate tech brings simple-but-powerful security to Skylake chips

A PIN plus a phone plus a fingerprint plus location equals some pretty darn good security, Intel believes.

A PIN? A password? For some businesses, just one means of logging in isn’t enough. That’s where the new Intel Authenticate for Skylake PCs comes in.

Intel Authenticate is a preview technology that’s built into the new sixth-generation Core chips with vPro that Intel began shipping for its business customers on Tuesday. The new “Skylake for business” chips, as some refer to them, emphasize simple-but-powerful security features that are built right into the silicon itself. 

Normally, consumers log in to their PCs via a password or PIN. Newer PCs use a thumbprint or even facial recognition, via a technology called Windows Hello, to simplify the process. Intel Authenticate is designed to “dramatically improve authentication security,” according to Tom Garrison, vice president and general manager of business client products at Intel, by using two, three, or even four different methods of authentication in tandem: multifactor authentication.

Intel Authenticate will be rolled out as a policy that IT admins can choose to enforce on their devices. Basically, it’s a laundry list of different security mechanisms that admins can require employees to use to log in, such as a fingerprint, a PIN, and a nearby phone, in tandem. The theory behind Authenticate is that the more of these little authentication hoops you jump through, the more certain a business can be that you are who you say you are.

The Authenticate technology does things a bit differently than consumers may be used to. For example, users don’t necessarily receive a PIN sent to their phone to log in, a common method of two-factor authentication. Instead, Intel Authenticate might require you to download an app to your phone. It then looks for the phone’s Bluetooth signal to verify you’re actually at your desk.

intel authenticate keypadMARK HACHMAN

With Authenticate, you don't enter PIN codes via a standard keypad.

If a PIN code is involved, that works differently, too. Instead of entering a numerical code via your keyboard's number pad, Authenticate forces you to use your mouse or touchscreen—lest a hacker has installed a keylogger on your PC. And instead of using a standard numerical keypad layout, Authenticate randomizes the layout of the numbers as an additional security mechanism.

intel authenticate phone Mark Hachman

Intel Authenticate might ask you to authenticate your phone.

In the future, Garrison said, Intel will also use techniques such as “logical location” to beef up Authenticate further: Can the PC see known, trusted Wi-Fi networks? If so, it’s probably where it’s supposed to be—another sign that you’re probably who you say you are.

Why this matters: This seems like good news for the average business user. We all detest memorizing complex passwords like “sdkl4*&78DGSDf,” then changing them regularly. But a combination of simple words, dubbed a passphrase (“jackandjillwentupthehill”), can be as tough to crack as a bunch of gobbledygook. Think of Intel Authenticate as a passphrase of sorts: a number of simple tasks, performed in sequence, that together identify you as you.

Don’t expect Intel Authenticate to appear on consumer PCs anytime soon—Intel is pushing the technology for businesses.


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