Phones with Intel’s 64-bit chips could discourage custom ROMs

Intel is getting ready to launch its next-gen smartphone chips. The upcoming 64-bit “Merrifield” processors will be the company’s most powerful smartphone chips to date, while offering longer battery life. But there may be something else that makes Merrifield chips special: Phones with the new processors may be designed to disable key features if you replace the operating system.

Intel’s Frank Kuypers explained the new security feature to Golem.de at CeBIT recently, saying that if you install CyanogenMod or another custom ROM, for example, you may lose access to LTE wireless networks or the ability to access your corporate email server.

Intel Atom Merrifield

Before you panic that Intel is trying to kill custom ROMs, this is being pitched as a security feature that allows businesses to prevent employees from installing untrusted software (or which could prevent someone from stealing a phone and continuing to access the corporate network).

But if the hardware-security feature Intel calls “hooks” are widely used, it could make it tougher for users to install custom ROMs such as CyanogenMod, AOKP, or Paranoid Android on phones with Intel’s next-gen mobile chips.

When used properly, hooks can actually be useful… letting software such as a virus scanner run in the background using code that’s tied directly to the processor and which isn’t even noticed by the operating system itself.

via TechGage and Softpedia

  • optimismprime

    “…letting software…run in the background using code that’s tied directly to the processor and which isn’t even noticed by the operating system itself.”

    Yeah, thanks but no thanks. I don’t need NSA.app running where not even my OS can see it running or monitor what it’s doing.

    • John Morris

      If only they were the only ones making use of such an ill advised misfeature. The malware will move into that special super supervisor mode and good luck getting out… or even detecting it.

    • Tim

      As John said, it’s also a nice place for the people who really want to do you harm to exploit. My main gripe about the whole NSA thing was that identity thieves intent on making your life miserable can also exploit the holes the NSA intentionally put into our hardware and software.

      I hope this “feature” is disabled on all the phones I buy. That is, if I even bother buying an Intel powered phone. I was rooting for Intel because of their great open source driver track record on Linux but now I don’t know.

      • CyberGusa

        Sounds like it’ll just be a feature for companies, such as for Enterprise security, which probably means it won’t apply to general consumer phones… we’ll see…

        But generally, I’d wait at least one more generation… Merrifield still uses a GPU based on Imagination Tech PowerVR GPU, meaning closed drivers, and will still mainly target the midrange phone market…

        Right now, only the tablet on up range Intel ATOMs are using Intel’s own GPU… Possibly because Intel still has a way to go before they can make their GPU energy efficient enough for smaller devices like phones…

        Though, it seems Intel may be accelerating their road map… as it looks like Intel will be skipping over the 14nm Morganfield and go straight to the next gen Goldmont architecture based Broxton SoC…

        We’ll see then if they finally make the switch fully to their own GPU for their phone range offerings…

      • azerty

        We’ll see. I wonder if OEMs will enable this since this sounds like something US carriers would try to force them to do.

      • Tsais

        Remember how Intel totally screwed up the hardware security scheme on computer processors and never actually fixed it?

        You’d have to trust that your computer manufacturer never looses your security key to hackers, the NSA or, God forbid, caves in to a Government request in any given country.
        And voila, your computer is not your computer anymore, it has turned into a giant bug that you are voluntarily feeding with data.

        Now you can thank Intel for introducing the same crap to phones.

  • ldrn

    Doing a hard anti-consumer pivot is just the thing Intel needs to overtake ARM in mobile chips!

    Or perhaps not. Seriously, what the heck, Intel.

    • Nathan Hubbard

      Yes this seems pretty strange considering Intel barely has their foot in the door when it comes to mobile phone.

  • Tim

    Wow. It’s not like the closed source ARM world wasn’t enough to make custom ROMs not very good. Now, Intel is specifically making it hard. Kind of makes their open source efforts from a user’s point of view worthless.

  • Tony Casagrande

    Do not want.

  • Tsais

    Greetings from George Orwell…

    All in the name of corporate security and cases of theft… I travel some rough areas in the world and nobody’s ever stolen my phone. I don’t leave it laying around. :p

    And what is that about loosing LTE access? That’s way out of line! Carrier kneefall much, Intel?

    Will this be abused by corporations and governments? Of course it will be abused!

    And Intel knows.

  • BoloMKXXVIII

    Can anyone explain how losing LTE capability is a “security feature”? If your phone is stolen the thief wonn’t use it because it only gets 3G? Come on! If they are going to lie at least they should come up with a good lie.

    • CyberGusa

      At the very least, the stolen phone would be less valuable if its features are crippled and that’s enough to help reduce the reasons why anyone would want to steal your phone in the first place…

      Just because it’s not a great reason doesn’t mean it isn’t still a valid one… Besides, for all we know this may only be something to help appeal to Enterprise users and may never effect general consumers…

      We’ll have to wait and see but assuming the worst is a bit premature at this point…

  • Cal Rankin

    Is Intel going to provide my software updates so that I don’t have to install a custom ROM?

  • Cal Rankin

    More proof that Intel doesn’t get Android.
    Looks like nVidia is the way to go for the 64-bit processors.

  • fUintel

    Dead in the water.

    Who really wants to give NSA (or any other spy agency or other criminals) the ability to spy on you freely, with this it is almost impossible for you to notice or stop it.