A researcher at IBM has developed a way to analyze encrypted data without decoding it, according to a statement from IBM.
The breakthrough method leverages a concept called “fully homomorphic encryption,” and stems from achievements an IBM researcher, Craig Gentry, developed on a problem that has stymied researchers for nearly 30 years.
"Fully homomorphic encryption is a bit like enabling a layperson to perform flawless neurosurgery while blindfolded, and without later remembering the episode,” Charles Lickel, vice president of software research at IBM, said in a statement.
One of the benefits of the breakthrough could be the ability to work with encrypted data as though it was fully unencrypted – that is, without seeing any of the private data. Thus, a cloud computing service provider, for example, could work on a dataset without the originator – or holder of the encryption keys – having to divulge the means of encryption, according to the statement.
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 confidentially, according to IBM.