Craig Gentry honored for encryption breakthrough - overview
Implementation of a mathematical proof could let Web services work with sensitive data without ever being able to read it.
The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) has awarded its 2009 Doctoral Dissertation Award to IBM researcher Craig Gentry, pictured, for his homomorphic encryption breakthrough that solves a central problem in cryptography, enabling computer systems to perform calculations on encrypted data without decrypting it.
Gentry's breakthrough, described in his dissertation "A Fully Homomorphic Encryption Scheme," allows users to hand off the processing of data to a vendor without giving away access to that data. For example, a user can submit an encrypted query to a search engine, and the search engine can compute a succinct encrypted answer without ever looking at the query directly. As a result, no information about the query is leaked. Cloud computing vendors that store their clients' encrypted data can fully "analyze" that data on their clients' behalf without seeing any of the private data and without expensive interaction with the client. The technique adds an important layer of safety and privacy to the online world in settings ranging from banking and healthcare to networks and cloud computing.
The idea of homomorphic encryption was first proposed more than thirty years ago but until Gentry's breakthrough, it was unclear whether fully homomorphic encryption was even possible.
At Eurocrypt 2010 this spring, Gentry and IBM Research colleague Shai Halevi reported on their implementation of Gentry's technique, showing that the entire "bootstrapping" step of the scheme can be performed in a few minutes on a conventional computer with extra memory. While much work lies ahead to make the scheme truly practical, this preliminary implementation offers a positive outlook for the deployment of fully homomorphic encryption in the future.
This article originally appeared on the IBM intranet. It was written by Christopher P. Andrews.
Last updated on June 29, 2010.
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