IBM earns patent for 'encrypted blobs'

IBM said it's received a patent for an innovative data-scrambling technique known as "fully homomorphic encryption" that allows processing of encrypted data without having to decrypt it first.

The challenge has been that in order to work with data in a practical way, it typically has to be "in the clear" and not encrypted. But decrypting data in order to perform useful processing on it leaves it observable and not protected, hence exposed in any attack. IBM in 2009 first began refining its approach to solving the problem of how to keep data encrypted and process it at the same time.

+ Also from NetworkWorld: Can encrypted blobs' help with secure cloud computing? | IBM cements 20 years of patent dominance+

"Our patented invention has the potential to pave the way for more secure cloud computing services -- without having to decrypt or reveal original data," says Craig Gentry, IBM Researcher and co-inventor named on the patent with fellow IBM researcher, Shai Halevi.

Specifically, it's  "U.S. Patent #8,565,435: Efficient implementation of fully homomorphic encryption." In the past, IBM has described this technology in simple terms as a way to create "encrypted blobs" that can be combined and processed with other encrypted blobs and get identical results as if the process were not encrypted.

IBM foresees its patented technology as particularly useful for sensitive data, such as financial, especially in cloud environments. But at the same time, IBM says testing of the practical use of fully homomorphic encryption is still ongoing.

IBM annually dominates the U.S. patent count, having led the pack for 20 straight years now.

Ellen Messmer is senior editor at Network World, an IDG website, where she covers news and technology trends related to information security. Twitter: MessmerE. E-mail:

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