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Pangborn predicts that reducing the cost of securing Web traffic will encourage wider adoption of encryption. “There’s going to be more development of applications that require encryption or just always use it,” he says.

That may enable more Web providers to follow the lead of Google and Facebook, both of which have made it possible for people to use their services over a secure connection. Google’s e-mail service, Gmail, always uses a secure link, and a secure version of Google’s search engine is also available. Facebook allows users to set their accounts to always use HTTPS. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group, has begun a “HTTPS everywhere campaign to encourage more Web sites to make such security a default.

Cavium’s new chip has 64 cores and is between 12 and 16 times faster than a previous, eight core, version. The new version can also process more than twice as much data using the same amount of energy. Such large increases in performance between generations are unusual, says Pangborn, but this one was necessary if encryption is to be used widely rather than just for specific cases like payments. In the next few months the first Nitrox III chips will be made available for testing by companies that make data-center hardware, with final versions expected to debut early next year.

Bob Wheeler, an analyst specializing in networking chips at the Linley Group, says that many data centers don’t use special hardware for their encryption, because only a small percentage of their traffic is encrypted. “If secure connections become more common and a lot of data is encrypted, chips like this will be needed, because data centers are very sensitive to energy efficiency,” says Wheeler.

The growth of cloud computing is dramatically increasing the demand for encrypted data, Wheeler says. When applications reside online instead of on a hard drive, all kinds of data become vulnerable, he notes.

Although Cavium’s chip, when it launches, may offer the most powerful and efficient way to encrypt data, Wheeler says that less capable chips could still compete with it. Intel and other chip manufacturers are starting to add specialized encryption cores to general-purpose chips designed for use in Web servers. Some companies may consider it more practical to use regular chips with limited encryption functionality than to buy extra, dedicated processors.

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Tagged: Computing, security, cryptography, encryption, microprocessors, electronic circuits

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