Intel Links Alleged Pentium Flaw To Software

SAN FRANCISCO, (Reuters) - Intel Corp said Wednesday an alleged flaw in its new Pentium's serial number system designed to keep personal computers secure from interference by ''hackers'' was related to the chip's software, not any physical problem with the chip. Intel said it is still in talks with the German magazine, Computer Technology, which Tuesday alleged a flaw in the software Intel provided for turning off the serial number, to determine what, if anything is wrong with its system.

Intel provided an ``on-off'' system in response to privacy concerns over the issuance of serial numbers which could be used to track users in cyberspace. The German magazine said it found a way to thwart that Pentium software and void the ``on-off'' switch without a user's knowledge. ``What is at issue here is not a chip flaw. There is no flaw in the Pentium III processor with respect to the processor serial number,'' said Intel spokesman Tom Waldrop. ``What is being discussed with the German magazine is a possible software hack.''

Intel has maintained that its new serial numbers are ``an important step'' toward combating malicious hackers. At a developer's conference in Palm Springs, Calif. this week to launch the new Pentium III chips, Intel underscored the importance of creating a secure environment for Internet commerce, which it said will grow into a $1 trillion business over the next few years.

The serial numbers, Waldrop said, will make personal computers ``less hackable'' and ``more secure and private.'' ``All software ultimately is hackable and today's Internet security is essentially all software and it is all hackable,'' said Waldrop. ``What we are doing today is introducing into the equation is a processor serial number that brings more of a hardware element, that's more resilient and less hackable and has more reliability.''

Waldrop said that if the software that controls the serial numbers is found to be defective, Intel will work on a ``patch'' or other software fix. But he said there have been no allegations of a defect in the chip itself. Five years ago, when the original Pentium chip was released, a flaw in the way the chip handled certain math equations led to a recall that cost Intel hundreds of millions of dollars, but the chip went on to become one of the most successful products in the history of the high-tech industry.


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