by Anton Shilov
10/07/2009 | 05:46 PM
General purpose computing on graphics processing units (GPGPU) is a highly-discussed topic these days. Thanks to multi-core architecture, GPUs can process multi-threaded tasks much more rapidly than central processing units. But while GPGPU technologies provide a number of benefits, they can also harm in case GPUs execute malicious code. Intel Corp. believes that GPU viruses are about to emerge and is taking steps to ensure that its forthcoming Larrabee is secure enough.
“Without any doubts, as graphics processors get more complex, the question of security will become more and more significant and, perhaps, we will witness the first viruses for the GPU. This is why we are carefully studying all the possibilities to ensure [appropriate] security with Larrabee, both on API and on driver levels,” said Philipp Gerasimov, a software development relations specialist at Intel, during a public discussion of Larrabee at Russian-language Habrahabr web-site.
At present graphics cards cannot delete or infect files on personal computers or steal confidential data due to limitations of driver models. Still, as GPUs are gaining functionality these days (e.g., Nvidia recently announced that its GeForce chips will be able to accelerate playback of flash-based content), sooner or later hackers will find ways to use those capabilities in a harmful way. Moreover, since Intel’s Larrabee is x86 compatible, whereas Nvidia promises to run C++ or Fortran code on its next-generation GPUs, developers of viruses are getting a whole new set of opportunities.
But GPGPU viruses should not be overestimated. Even though GPUs will be able to execute malicious programs (in fact, certain combinations of shaders can damage graphics chips that are not properly cooled down), there will always be a much more keen executor of harmful programs: the microprocessor, which will still be inside every personal computer.