Is this the next step in the arms race between antivirus companies and malware writers? Kaspersky Labs says the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has granted it a patent for a hardware-based antivirus solution. The patent, numbered 7,657,941, was filed last September and describes "an anti-virus (AV) system based on a hardware-implemented AV module for curing infected computer systems and a method for updating AV databases for effective curing of the computer system."
Kaspersky's press release describes the invention in more human-readable terms:
The patented device is installed between a drive (hard drive or SSD) and the computing unit (CPU and RAM) and is connected to the system bus or integrated into the disk controller. The hardware antivirus solution allows or blocks writing data to disk, providing threat alerts and information about its operation to the user (user dialog is possible if the hardware antivirus control utility is installed on the PC). The device can work on a standalone basis or in conjunction with a software antivirus application.
Kaspersky adds that the device has its own processor, memory, updatable virus databases "that are protected from malicious code and faulty records during updates," and potentially even a discrete power supply. In theory, that design presents two advantages: it should be out of the reach of rootkits, which can normally conceal themselves within the operating system and either elude or neuter antivirus software; and it shouldn't impact system performance as much as conventional AV software, since the hardware solution has its own CPU and RAM.
The firm hasn't yet talked about commercial implementations, so we're left to wonder what shape and price tags Kaspersky's hardware antivrus products might take. A tiny system board with an ARM processor and a couple of soldered-on RAM chips wouldn't cost a whole lot or take up much room—and who knows, it might even fit in a laptop's PCI Express Mini card slot. Anything much elaborate would presumably be too big and costly for anything but high-end desktop PCs and enterprise systems, though.
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