HP Labs Renewed Focus on Endpoint Security Is Worth Watching

A visit to HP Labs offices in central Bristol, about 120 miles west of London, was a chance to catch up with the hardware part of the former Hewlett Packard conglomerate, which split in two four years ago. The split also meant that there are now two HP Labs, one for the HP business and the other for Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

To perhaps position itself as a serious B2B vendor we were told that HP is an “endpoint infrastructure company”, which kind of works, but its US, Chinese and Taiwanese competition could conceivably claim the same.

To counter this, HP is tapping into the shared legacy of the research and development focus that the original Mr. Hewlett and Mr. Packard founded in that famous garage in Palo Alto – hence the trip to HP Labs. A single floor of an office block in Bristol lacks some of the wow factor of the more campus feel of the old joined-up and bigger HP Labs but, on the other hand, the ideas that came out of those Labs did not always see practical application.

The focus then was on HP’s security credentials for innovations that have found their way into products. In a series of demonstrations of its Sure Suite technologies, HP made a case for why its line of laptops and PCs are better equipped to withstand attacks on the endpoint.

Sure Start protects the BIOS from attack each time the PC or laptop is booted on a network or standalone and automatically validates the integrity of the BIOS code. Once the PC is operational, runtime intrusion detection monitors memory. In the case of an attack, the PC can self-heal using an isolated “golden copy” of the BIOS. The live demo on the day showed a laptop that had been locked by ransomware being brought back to operable life. Sure Recover is a tool squarely aimed at the SMB market allowing end users to recover their operating system even after it has been wiped out by an attack, without recourse to IT. It uses HP’s chip-based Endpoint Security Controller (ESC) to image the latest OS using a wired network connection.

A new announcement on the day was HP Sure Admin which extends the automation of secure endpoint management into the corporate domain and builds on the user-friendly technologies of Sure Start and Sure Recover, to reduce the threat of attacks on the surface created by remote management tools. Traditionally, BIOS updates on endpoint PCs have been administered through passwords which are at risk of theft or intervention. Sure Admin uses public/private key encryption to authorise remote BIOS changes. For local access, Sure Admin runs as an app on a smartphone accessed by a private key, which then generates a onetime PIN for an admin to access an endpoint that needs maintenance or recovery. Also demonstrated was HP Sure Sense which uses AI to recognise unknown malware to mitigate zero-day attacks, with a less than 20 millisecond detection rate claimed by HP.

Any kind of demo must be viewed objectively, and these technologies will only prove their mettle in the wild. The other issue is how well any of these endpoints so equipped would embed into an existing corporate environment. Sure Admin needs a serious examination of how it can be integrated into the wider enterprise IT, access management and security portfolio.

This is not to disparage the progress HP has made, and my feeling at the end of the day was that HP is using its Labs for real-world security applications. But they are currently more efficient iterations of existing technologies rather than great leaps forward. However, endpoint protection is essential for business environments that are more open, extended and connected than before. HP’s recent acquisition of endpoint security start-up Bromium will no doubt impact on HP’s future plans to improve on these technologies further.

 


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