Intel joins forces with DARPA to help build encryption ‘holy grail’

Microsoft will also help test the new technology in the cloud

Intel has announced it is working with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to help develop the 'holy grail' of encryption.

Intel and DARPA, a research and development US government agency, will work together to develop an accelerator for fully homomorphic encryption (FHE).

FHE is essentially encryption that allows users to perform calculations on encrypted data without decrypting it first, reducing the risk of the information being stolen when in a vulnerable state.

Intel will perform in DARPA’s Data Protection in Virtual Environments (DPRIVE) programme which aims to develop FHE. The organisation will work alongside Microsoft who will lead the commercial adoption of the technology once it has been tested in its cloud offerings, including Microsoft Azure and the JEDI cloud, with the US government.

Rosario Cammarota, principal engineer at Intel Labs and the principal investigator as part of the DARPA DPRIVE programme said: “Fully homomorphic encryption remains the holy grail in the quest to keep data secure while in use. 

“Despite strong advances in trusted execution environments and other confidential computing technologies to protect data while at rest and in transit, data is unencrypted during computation, opening the possibility of potential attacks at this stage. This frequently inhibits our ability to fully share and extract the maximum value out of data.”

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According to Intel, many businesses rely on a variety of data encryption methods to protect their information while it is in transit, in use and at rest. These techniques mean that data must be decrypted for processing and during this state it can be vulnerable for misuse.

With FHE, it aims to allow users to compute on always-encrypted data, or cryptograms, which means the data doesn’t need to be decrypted and reduces the risk of potential threats. This will help organisations to use large datasets in techniques like machine learning while protecting the data.

Intel isn't the only company looking at this technology, as last year IBM released a toolkit to allow macOS and iOS developers to utilise FHE while building apps. FHE was first discovered over a decade ago by IBM researcher Craig Gentry.

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