Thursday Valve Software revealed a new secondary authentication method for Steam and Steamworks called Steam Guard. This added security component will "greatly increase account security" by allowing users to link account management to a specific PC.
According to Valve, Steam Guard will be made possible by the use of Intel's upcoming Identity Protection Technology (Intel IPT), an encrypted, hardware-based feature available with the new 2nd Generation Intel Core and Intel Core vPro processors. Unfortunately, that bit of info seems to indicate that Steam Guard will be useless on current Intel and all AMD processors until an alternative to IPT is released.
"Account phishing and hijacking are our #1 support issues," said Gabe Newell, President of Valve. "With Intel's IPT and Steam Guard, we've taken a big step towards giving customers the account security they need as they purchase more and more digital goods."
IPT generates a new numerical password every 30 seconds, integrating into the processor functionality that previously required a separate card or key fob. Users will be notified by Steam Guard if any PCs other than those authorized by them attempt to log into or modify their account settings. The new feature is now available to third parties to incorporate into their own applications through Steamworks, Valve said.
"We expect to see widespread adoption of hardware-based security like Intel IPT by other service providers," said Doug Lombardi, Valve's Vice President of Marketing. "If as a customer you are buying movies, music, games, or digital goods, you want to know that they are more secure than your physical goods."
Currently it's unknown what will happen to accounts when Steam Guard is activated and the linked PC goes down in flames, or how the service will notify the account holder of suspicious tampering. Valve's Burton Johnsey has noted the outstanding questions, saying that Valve will "provide more information in the near future that should clear up some of these questions and the surrounding confusion."
UPDATE: Steam Guard is now available in beta form. To access the beta, simply launch the Steam client and head to the Accounts tab in Settings menu. Users must then change the beta participation status to "Steam" (if it's not already set) and then re-start the client. For those who don't have the required Intel processor to support IPT, Steam Guard will use email-based authentication instead.
Steam Guard will soon offer other forms of secondary authentication, Valve added Friday. In the meantime, the official Steam Guard FAQ can be accessed here.