IBM sets out to crack FHE, the ‘holy grail’ of cloud encryption

Homomorphic encryption allows users’ data to be protected anytime it’s sent to the cloud — it could be the breakthrough technology for cloud security.
17 December 2020
  • Fully homomorphic encryption allows means data is usable, even when it’s encrypted 
  • It’s been called a ‘holy grail’ for cloud security
  • IBM is launching a FHE test environment, where customers can test the service   

Computing giant IBM is launching a fully homomorphic encryption (FHE) test service for businesses.

Homomorphic encryption allows users’ data to be protected anytime it’s sent to the cloud, while still keeping some of the useful properties of cloud services, like searching for strings within files.

That’s because it allows operations and functions to be pre-formed over encrypted data, meaning data is never unencrypted data so, for example, a disgruntled and rogue AWS employee can’t go and access private customer data. 

Companies can therefore achieve zero-trust, by unlocking their data on untrusted domains without needing to decrypt it.

And this is why FHE has been regarded as the ‘holy grail’ of cloud security — one of the main concerns for enterprise adoption. 

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

“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,” said Sridhar Muppidi, chief technology officer at IBM Security. 

“By bringing IBM’s cryptography expertise and resources to our clients that are driving innovation in their unique industries, we can work together to create a new generation of applications that leverage the power of sensitive data, without compromising on privacy.”

IBM has been developing the algorithms behinds its FHE service for more than a decade. The original computations, however, were too slow, taking days or weeks for calculations that would otherwise take seconds. 

As computing power has continued to exponentially grow, algorithms behind FHE have advanced and it’s now able to perform the task in seconds, making it viable for real-world use cases. 

The company has now completed a number of trials, with clients working on pilot programs to implement the service. IBM customers can access a testing environment where they can create prototype applications using FHE, with support from IBM trainers. 

While the technology is still in the early stages, launching a test environment will help IBM and its customers understand real-world challenges — the company is aiming the service at developers and engineers specializing in cryptographics first.