Understanding Trusted Computing: Will Its Benefits Outweigh Its Drawbacks?

Privacy and Security

Article Snapshot


Edward Felten


IEEE Security & Privacy, May-June 2003


This article looks at controversial software intended to protect against computer viruses.

Policy Relevance

Security products that use “trusted computing” would enable software firms to make it impossible for competing software to work with their product.

Main Points

  • Observers are suspicious of software products to support “trusted computing,” like the Trusted Computing Platform Architecture (TCPA) (developed by firms including IBM and HP) and Microsoft’s Palladium.

  • “Trusted computing” uses a combination of hardware and software to create code certifying that the software being used is authentic and has not been tampered with, and to encrypt data on the machine so that it cannot be read by unauthorized software.

  • The main effect of trusted computing is that it will let the creator of software control which other software will work with it.
    • It can stop viruses from corrupting data.
    • It could also stop a commercial software product from reading data created using another product.

  • Whether a software producer would allow data created using its software to be read by competitors’ software depends on whether the producer would benefit economically.
  • Sometimes interoperability benefits both firms as well as consumers, but not always.

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