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IBM Develops Technique to Enable Confidential Processing of Encrypted Data

Could this be the breakthrough in data privacy the world has awaited for so long? A researcher with IBM (Armonk, N.Y.) claims to have developed a method for handling encrypted data without actually revealing the content.

The technique is called privacy homomorphism, or fully homomorphic encryption, and makes possible the deep and unlimited analysis of encrypted information without sacrificing confidentiality, says IBM. The solution was formulated by IBM researcher Craig Gentry and uses a mathematical object called an ideal lattice, to allow people to fully interact with encrypted data in ways previously thought impossible. The implications of the technique mean that computer vendors storing the confidential, electronic data of others will be able to fully analyze data on their client's behalf without expensive interaction with the client, and without seeing any of the private data. With Gentry's technique, states a release, the analysis of encrypted information can yield the same detailed analysis as if the original data was fully visible to all.

According to IBM, the solution could help strengthen the business model of cloud computing, where a computer vendor is entrusted to host the confidential data of others in a ubiquitous Internet presence. It could also potentially enable other applications, such as filters to identify spam, even in encrypted e-mail, or protecting information contained in electronic medical records. The breakthrough might also one day enable computer users to retrieve information from a search engine without the search engine knowing precisely what was requested.

"Fully homomorphic encryption is a bit like enabling a layperson to perform flawless neurosurgery while blindfolded, and without later remembering the episode," said Charles Lickel, VP of software research at IBM, in a statement. "We believe this breakthrough will enable businesses to make more informed decisions, based on more studied analysis, without compromising privacy. We also think that the lattice approach holds potential for helping to solve additional cryptography challenges in the future."

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