Intel serial number ID stirs new controversy

The controversy over Intel placing Pentium Serial Number (PSN) technology inside its Pentium III processors to identify users continues. Zero-Knowledge Systems, a company which offers its customers anonymity while Web surfing, claims to have hacked the Intel software utility program meant to turn the serial ID off.

The controversy over Intel placing Pentium Serial Number (PSN) technology inside its Pentium III processors to identify users continues. Zero-Knowledge Systems, a company which offers its customers anonymity while Web surfing, claims to have hacked Intel's software utility program meant to turn the serial ID off.

A Zero-knowledge programmer created an ActiveX application that goes around Intel's PSN Control Utility and places a cookie file inside the user's system. Once the cookie is in place, even if the user turns off the unique chip serial number, the number can be broadcast.

Zero-Knowledge President Austin Hill says he was concerned with his customers' right to privacy.

"We are developing privacy software. Our users are putting a certain amount of trust in us to make sure information about them can't be leaked," said Hill.

"Any scheme that can be used to track users on the Internet we frown upon. We don't see the real benefit of having a serial number for identification purposes," said Hill.

An Intel representative saw the issue in a different light.

"In a transaction, you have to give up anonymity because when you do a stock trade for example, they want to know who it is," said George Alfs, an Intel spokesperson

As to whether or not the program developed by Zero-Knowledge Programmer Mario Contestabile works, Intel's Alfs said the company hadn't tried it yet.

According to Hill, PSN is a bad model for authentication.

"Authentication belongs in your wallet in smart cards and personal certificates that are protected with a pass phrase. This is traditional security, something you know, something you have, something you are. Very rarely do you carry around a PC," said Hill.

Hill believes his ActiveX program demonstrates that hackers and unscrupulous companies can steal the number and use it maliciously to do anything including selling your stocks or stealing your money through illegal wire transfers.

"If you have a cookie that contains the serial number, an ad company can look for that cookie and track you. That cookie can keep coming back even if you erase it. It's the cookie that never goes away," said Hill.

Intel Corp., in Santa Clara, California, can be reached at http://www.intel.com/. Zero-Knowledge Systems Inc. in Montreal, Canada can be reached at http://www.zks.net/.

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