Microsoft has strengthened the security of its ecosystem one step at a time. Windows 11 set the tone by making the TPM 2.0 chip mandatory for upgrade and installation. Taking it to the next level, the PC giant has introduced the Pluto security processor. So what is PSP or Pluto Security Processor, do you need it, and how or where can you get it? Let’s find out.
What is a Pluto Security Chip?
Microsoft has partnered with popular chipmakers like Intel, AMD, and Qualcomm to develop a new security chip named Pluto Security Processor. It was designed as a hardware unit that will be directly implemented in the processors of future computers. Why?
The chip provides tighter integration between hardware (motherboard) and software (Windows operating system and applications). Pluto aims to make it harder for hackers to break into computers and steal data or seize system access, even with physical access to the computer.
But don’t we have TPM chips for that?
Differences between TPM and PSP
TPMs or Trusted Processor Modules are hardware components that reside in your computer but are separate from the motherboard. Although they encrypt data and protect the user against several types of attacks, they do not provide protection against a full spectrum or vector of advanced attacks. For example, when the the hacker has physical access to the computerTPM chips can do little to protect data integrity.
Another problem is that since the TPM is not part of the motherboard, it needs a communication channel to transfer data back and forth. This leaves the channel open for hackers to intercept and manipulate.
TPM chips, while supported by Windows and powering security solutions such as Windows BitLocker and Hello, are not by default on most computers. With the Pluto Security Chips, Microsoft wants to address these issues by partnering with major manufacturers and making Pluto the default standard.
Since the security chip is part of the motherboard and is tightly integrated, there is no need to depend on an outside channel to communicate instructions or transfer data. This reduces external dependencies.
The PSP also uses cloud-to-chip technology where Microsoft will have the ability to update the chip. This will help them mitigate new and emerging risks before they pose a threat to the user.
Pluto Protective Features
Pluto can emulate TPM using APIs, which makes integration seamless, basically removing the need for TPM. So, for example, encryption keys, user profiles, user identities, credentials, etc., can all be secured by Pluto now.
Other security services that Windows users implement directly to access and secure their computers, such as Windows Hello, BitLocker and System Guard, will also use Pluto now.
While being part of the basic hardware, the motherboard, Pluto uses the Secure Hardware Encryption Key or SHACK to isolate the data on it. Because it can act independently, a Pluto security processor requires its own firmware, albeit a lighter version, to run and perform various tasks.
Another major advantage of the firmware is that it can be upgraded (via cloud updates using the Windows Update feature) from time to time to mitigate new and emerging threats. Pirates evolve too, after all.
When will the PSP be available
Technically, it has already happened. Lenovo has already announced two new ThinkPads powered by AMD Ryzen Pro 6000 processors with the embedded Pluto Security Processor. That being said, HP, ROG, Lenovo, Dell, Acer, and Razor are expected to launch premium laptops with Pluto this year.
Note that manufacturers can choose to enable or disable Pluto by default. However, users will also have the option to enable/disable it. The function, like TPM, will be available in BIOS or UEFI.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. When was Pluto first introduced?
Pluto was first introduced in 2013 with the launch of Xbox and later Azure Sphere and was primarily designed to prevent players from hacking and gaining unfair advantages or unlocking in-app items who are otherwise paid. It was designed to secure sensitive data by embedding the security chip into the hardware of the computer. Microsoft announced Pluto for PC in 2020.
2. What happens to the TPM now?
While there’s no word from Microsoft or other PC makers, we believe it will be phased out in favor of Pluto as it offers better hardware-level security and can be updated through the cloud. . You may want to consider Pluto Security Processor as TPM 3.0.
3. Will Pluto bring DRM (Digital Rights Management) restrictions like it did on Xbox?
It is true that Pluto has pretty much ended piracy on the Xbox platform. However, according to a Microsoft official, the purpose of bringing Pluto into Windows was for security purposes, not DRM. But it’s still too early to comment on anything, and things can always change in the future.
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