Intel is Stockpiling Legacy Hardware in a Secret Lab in Costa Rica


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(Photo: Intel)
Intel has been cranking out new software package and hardware for as long as the company has existed, but it hasn’t taken care of a central facility for dedicated security tests on its more mature hardware. That all adjusted in 2018, according to the Wall Avenue Journal, as the company started collecting as much “legacy” hardware as it could get its palms on, and then begun squirreling it away in an undisclosed location in Costa Rica,  The motive is basic: so they can check new software program and hardware on older methods, to make confident there’s no security difficulties.

For instance, let’s say Intel releases a new piece of computer software, or a driver, which happens often. Will there be any security concerns jogging it on a Haswell CPU, circa 2013? Or Sandy Bridge, on a Windows seven system? These are the kinds of scenarios the business realized it necessary to be screening, as buyers can consider several decades to up grade to the most current edition of a CPU or platform, and the firm experienced to be confident it’s most recent software program did not make it possible for stability holes when deployed on legacy techniques. Moreover, no one desires to be tests for stability flaws on users’ techniques “in the wild” or a corporate natural environment, where facts loss could be a dilemma. This is the sort of function which is very best accomplished in a lab.

A look within Intel’s secretive lab in Costa Rica. (Photo: Intel)

According to the Intel, organizing initial commenced in 2018, which permitted for the development of the Prolonged-Expression Retention Lab, which went into procedure in the second fifty percent of 2019. In its nascent stage, its stockpile of more mature hardware was so lacking the enterprise had to change to eBay to come across some areas, these as Sandy Bridge CPUs. Nonetheless, soon after ramping up, the 14,000 sq. foot warehouse now holds extra than three,000 objects, together with both of those software program and components, heading back about 10 a long time or so. Engineers functioning in the facility are capable to assemble specific hardware and application combos for Intel personnel to check remotely, everywhere in the planet. Intel notes that a whole lot of the tests requests it receives are in reaction to flaws submitted by exterior researchers who participate in the company’s bug bounty method. With a ticket in-hand for a suspected flaw, an engineer can seize an eight-yr outdated motherboard and CPU off the shelf, put in a certain BIOS and model of Home windows on it, and attempt to replicate the situation.

It is not surprising that this initiative dates again to mid-2018. Meltdown and Spectre had been disclosed in early 2018 and have been a usually talked over subject matter that yr. A excellent deal of consideration has been centered on speculative execution aspect channel assaults above the past four a long time. It appears very likely that Intel’s effort and hard work to assemble this in depth safety analysis facility was driven in component by a want for additional robust tests in the wake of Meltdown and Spectre. The organization issued patches for a broad selection of hardware when Meltdown and Spectre were being very first disclosed, and it might have resolved to codify these initiatives into a a lot more official plan. We’ve achieved out to Intel on this issue and will update this tale when we listen to back.

Update: According to an Intel spokesperson, Spectre and Meltdown contributed to the perception within Intel that this was an significant undertaking. They were being not the sole variable, and some of the safety initiatives that contributed to the Extensive Time period Retention Lab date back a 10 years or extra.

1 interesting anecdote from the journal’s reporting is it sounds like Intel questioned all of its current, and former, workers to pitch in with any components and expertise/documentation they might have had lying close to to guide with the challenge. It also sounds like a fast paced area to work, with a person manager stating they acquire one,000 requests a month to create specific components and computer software configurations for remote security exams, and they also receive 50 new units weekly.

Easily the most intriguing angle of this tale is the point that Intel will not reveal the area of the facility, as Intel notes that obtain to the setting up is strictly managed, with security cameras watching the antiquated components 24/7 as properly. It type of delivers to head a Jurassic Park circumstance, with 20-foot tall electrified fences encompassing the “Sandy Bridge Compound.” Having the analogy even further more, we’re imagining an unnamed engineer stating for the file, “It’s 100 % safe. This technological know-how will under no circumstances escape!”

All jokes apart, for software package and hardware tinkers like ourselves this sounds like a aspiration job. A heat and economical locale, important-sounding security badges and lanyards, and acquiring to create pcs all-working day. In which do we indicator up?

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