Researchers in Japan have developed a microchip that blocks computer viruses before they enter PCs, an advance that could change how security software is used.
Chips in routers can stop viruses without slowing down programmes running on computers the way security software does, according to researcher Eiichi Takahashi at the government-funded National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology.
But the chips need to be rewritable so they can be updated with online information about new viruses, and that creates a problem, because rewritable chips now can recognise only about a few hundred viruses each.
This makes an effective anti-virus chip system prohibitively expensive, while open source software recognises roughly 70,000 viruses, Takahashi said. The technology poses no threat to security software companies Trend Micro Inc or Symantec Corp, he said.
Takahashi said he hopes to win a government grant to develop in three to five years a security chip that can recognise more viruses, for mass production by a Japanese company like Trend Micro, when key patents for programmable chips, held by Xilinx Inc and Altera Corp, expire.
The chips can also block viruses from entering mobile phones, personal digital assistants and online refrigerators, microwave ovens and other appliances, as well as PCs, Takahashi said.
“We hope the chips will be used in tandem with existing security software,” he said. “You can never have too many different kinds of locks on the door.”