Instrumented Interconnecteds Intelligent
October, 22nd 2009

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George Faulkner in

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The proliferation of data-generating sensors and mobile computing devices, and the emergence of new forms of communication such as social networking, are driving unprecedented growth in the collection, storage and management of all types of data. Not surprisingly, this phenomenon has sparked growing demand for the ability to extract intelligence from these massive mountains of information—intelligence that can enable organizations to improve their decision-making and run their businesses more effectively and efficiently.

With this capacity to rapidly sift thru data and gain new insights comes a significant challenge and responsibility when it comes to personal information, or information that relates to identifiable individuals: how to enable the exchange and analysis of data, while protecting privacy. Thoughtfully-designed technologies can play a key role here.

For example, an IBM Researcher has solved a thorny mathematical problem that has confounded scientists since the invention of public-key encryption several decades ago. The breakthrough, called “privacy homomorphism,” or “fully homomorphic encryption,” makes possible the deep and unlimited analysis of encrypted information — data that has been intentionally scrambled — without sacrificing confidentiality.

IBM’s solution, formulated by IBM Researcher Craig Gentry, uses a mathematical object called an “ideal lattice,” and allows people to fully interact with encrypted data in ways previously thought impossible. With the breakthrough, computer vendors storing the confidential, electronic data of others will be able to fully analyze data on their clients’ behalf without expensive interaction with the client, and without seeing any of the private data. With Gentry’s technique, the analysis of encrypted information can yield the same detailed results as if the original data was fully visible to all.

Using 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 might better enable a cloud computing vendor to perform computations on clients’ data at their request, such as analyzing sales patterns, without exposing the original data.

Other potential applications include enabling filters to identify spam, even in encrypted email, or protecting information contained in electronic medical records. The breakthrough might also one day enable computer users to retrieve information from a search engine with more confidentiality.

In this video, we have provided a glimpse into the world of cyber security and one of IBM’s cryptography research groups. The Hawthorne N.Y. group works on a number of crypto projects that help to keep the internet both safe and secure.


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