- IBM Security launched a service for companies to build prototype applications using fully homomorphic encryption (FHE), the company announced Thursday. The technology allows sensitive data to remain encrypted while it is processed or analyzed in the cloud or other third-party environments.
- The service will help companies apply analytics, search and artificial intelligence to highly sensitive data in a protected environment where the information remains in encrypted form, according to the announcement.
- The technology has been under development in lab environments for more than a decade, though it has historically been considered too slow for daily commercial use, according to IBM. Simple computations could often take days or weeks to complete, compared with similar calculations taking seconds in an unencrypted space.
The concepts behind FHE have been around for decades, but IBM and others have worked since 2009 to advance the technology into something that could be applied in real world scenarios.
The growth of hybrid cloud and the increased use of collaboration in data analysis has driven the need for a technology that would allow full encryption of a data set across different environments, experts say.
"You're the data steward, you're looking to share data with a third party who wants to analyze that data," said Eric Maass, director of strategy and emerging technology at IBM Security.
Data may be shared in a clear text form to a third party, but they may need to decrypt to analyze the data, he said. Losing control over that data raises concerns. "That tends to be where a lot of the leakage and exposure risk comes into play."
IBM has tested FHE in real world scenarios to see if this technology could help secure sensitive information. Under a pilot with Brazil's Banco Bradesco, the companies tested the use of machine learning predictive analysis using encrypted data.
IBM plans to offer education, support from cryptography experts and a lab environment to help companies build prototypes for FHE-enabled applications.
Some analysts see a commercial market developing for FHE. Gartner predicts that by 2025, at least 20% of companies will have a budget for projects that include FHE, compared with about 1% today.
Whether this becomes reality will largely depend on whether concerns about speed will move this form of encryption out of the laboratory into full commercial use.
"This will be improved as more practitioners push more data through the processes, and organizations that have built muscles around 'crypto agility' — the process of adapting to new cryptographic methods and tools — will find it easier to adopt homomorphic encryption when the speed becomes acceptable," said Michael Thelander, director of product marketing at Venafi.