Intel's Centrino may crash Windows when used with VPNs

Notebook and laptop computers based on Intel's mobile and wireless Centrino chip architecture can experience a "blue screen"...

Notebook and laptop computers based on Intel's mobile and wireless Centrino chip architecture can experience a "blue screen" crash in Windows XP when running widely distributed virtual private network (VPN) security software from Nortel Networks.

Nortel software engineer Mike Schexnaydre said his company has determined that the blue-screen crash, in which the operating system stops functioning, stems from problems with the Network Driver Interface Specification within Intel's PROSet software. 

Schexnaydre said the conflict between Centrino and Nortel's Contivity VPN client stems from an adapter-switching feature in PROSet that allows users to switch from a wired to a wireless connectionautomatically . 

Nortel has developed a workaround to the problem, which requires IT departments to uninstall the PROSet drivers. This workaround will allow the Contivity client to operate with Centrino, but at the expense of the functionality of the Intel PROSet software, which controls features such as wireless Lan setup profiles, roaming and a connection wizard. 

Schexnaydre said the operating system freeze appears to occur only with Centrino-based models using the 855GM version of the onboard graphics memory hub and power management controller. Centrino-based computers with the 855PM chip set do not appear to be affected. 

Nortel spokesman Pat Cooper said "it would have been better" if Intel had built Contivity support into Centrino from the start, since the company has already shipped about 50 million Contivity VPN clients since 1997. 

Intel spokesman Daniel Francisco said the company "is looking into the problem", but he declined to provide any details. According to Intel's website, the problem extends to all VPN clients, something the company was aware of before it launched Centrino in March. 

In an advisory posted on its website in February, Intel said, "The Intel PROSet Adapter Switching feature must be disabled when VPN client software is in use." Francisco agreed that that language was inclusive and appeared to apply to all VPNs. 

Other VPN suppliers were unaware of possible conflicts between Centrino and their products.

Meta Group analyst Chris Kozup said the Centrino/VPN problem illustrated the fact that suppliers have done a "crappy job" in addressing the security requirements of enterprises, especially with wireless products.

Kozup said he found it "baffling" that Intel did not build plug-and-play VPN support into Centrino.

Bob Brewin writes for Computerworld

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