IBM develops selective data hiding on the fly

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IBM researchers said this week that they have developed a way to selectively hide information on a computer screen on the fly.

The technology can obscure data that should not be seen by unauthorized users. That is, users can see only what they are permitted to see on-screen -- the rest is dynamically masked.

The software, a research prototype called MAGEN (Masking Gateway for Enterprises), grabs information before it is displayed, reads it, and then masks details that the person logged in is not allowed to view.

“MAGEN intercepts a bitmap-formatted snapshot of the screen on its way to the end-user,” IBM spokesman Ari Fishkind told SCMagazineUS.com Thursday in an email. “MAGEN finds and shields sensitive data on the fly, and [screen information] is reconstructed into a new bitmap-format image with the appropriate masking.”

The innovation could mean that companies would not have to create modified copies of electronic records in which information is masked, scrambled or eliminated.

"MAGEN's screen-masking approach eliminates the need to painstakingly tailor 'data masking' solutions to specific environments," Haim Nelken, IBM's manager of Integration Technologies at the Israel Research Lab in Haifa, said in a statement.

The technology doesn't change underlying software programs or the data itself – it simply filters the information before it ever reaches the screen, according to the statement.

“A MAGEN server provides a console where the administrator can configure the rules about which screen information should be filtered, how it should be filtered (i.e., fully blanked out, partially masked, or substituted with asterisks or fake numbers), and for whom,” Fishkind said.

IBM is unsure when it will market the technology.

“The fact that we have a proof-of-concept for MAGEN, and not just a theoretical breakthrough, would suggest that it might find its way into a product within a few short years,” Fishkind said.

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