IBM launches experimental homomorphic data encryption environment for the enterprise


IBM has launched a fully homomorphic encryption (FHE) test service for the enterprise in the first step to bringing in-transit encrypted data analysis into the commercial sector. 

IBM said on Thursday that the new FHE solution, IBM Security Homomorphic Encryption Services, will allow clients to start experimenting with how the technology could be implemented to enhance the privacy of their existing IT architecture, products, and data. 

FHE, considered by some as the “Holy Grail” of encryption, as it is a form of encryption that allows data to remain encrypted when being processed. 

The concept behind FHE is to plug the gap between securely-encrypted data held in storage and the need to decrypt while this information is in use — a requirement in data processing or analysis — which can create protection issues. 

While IBM and others in the research community have been working on developing homomorphic encryption for over a decade, FHE has not been considered practical, due to the high compute power required to work with encrypted data, as well as the sluggish speeds of computations. 

Now, however, IBM says that due to increases in industry compute power and the refinement of algorithms behind FHE, calculations can now be performed in seconds per bit, “making it fast enough for many types of real-world use cases and early trials with businesses.”

See also: The biggest hacks, data breaches of 2020

IBM is also working on making FHE “quantum-safe” by implementing lattice cryptography

The company has completed a number of field trials and clients have been working on pilot programs this year to implement FHE. Available now, customers can access an IBM Cloud testing environment to create prototype applications utilizing FHE, and IBM trainers will be on hand to support new FHE projects. 

IBM Research tools will also be made available for specific use case tests, including encrypted search and machine learning (ML) features. 

“Fully homomorphic encryption holds tremendous potential for the future of privacy and cloud computing, but businesses must begin learning about and experimenting with FHE before they can take full advantage of what it has to offer,” commented Sridhar Muppidi, IBM Security CTO. 

The technology is still in its early stages and is yet to reach commercial maturity, but by offering a test environment, IBM may be able to resolve FHE implementation and performance challenges, and as such, the company says that the initial offering is focused on developers and engineers in the cryptographic space.

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