Stricter privacy regulations worldwide have led to a renewed interest in how data can and should be used. Many businesses have been left wondering how to leverage data for competitive advantage while fulfilling new compliance requirements.

The challenge is that stringent new laws that protect an individual’s right to data privacy leads to the stripping away of the identifying characteristics that make it useful and valuable for research, analytics and insights.

One solution that has emerged as an antidote to this predicament is homomorphic encryption.

Closing the window of vulnerability

While most organisations house their data in a responsible way – and keep it encrypted when transmitting – it is still decrypted before any analysis takes place. It is in this unencrypted state where it becomes vulnerable to breaches, hacks and theft.

Homomorphic encryption removes this vulnerability as analytics can be performed on data that remains encrypted. Different parties can analyse combined encoded data without ever seeing the underlying deciphered information.

The origins of homomorphic encryption

The concept of operating on encrypted data was originally coined “privacy homomorphisms” in a 1978 paper by Ronald Rivest and colleagues at MIT. However, it wasn’t until 2009 that a Stanford University student, Craig Gentry, developed the first fully homomorphic encryption scheme. This was a significant step forward which led to various homomorphic encryption libraries and a renewed focus to advance this technology for commercial environments.

Speed and security

For many years the intense computation power required to run homomorphic calculations slowed the performance of this technology. However, in recent years increased computation power combined with research and development, like that conducted by IXUP, has seen homomorphic encryption emerge as a realistic solution to boost data privacy and security efforts.

IXUP was one of the first platforms in the world to enable access to homomorphic encryption, broadening the reach of otherwise inaccessible and complex encryption tools. The IXUP platform has significantly improved the performance of running homomorphic computations, optimising how homomorphic encryption keys are managed, reducing the impact on ingestion time from the number of computations performed to offer results faster than published international results.

Data analytics in regulated industries

Homomorphic encryption can provide big advantages for heavily regulated industries like health, financial services and government, as well as fields reliant on customer insights like marketing and loyalty programs where data security and privacy are paramount.

Let us take healthcare as an example. COVID-19 has turned our world upside down with the impacts of this public health crisis continuing to stretch to all corners of our society. While we diligently monitor infection and testing rates, there are other data points that could provide surrogate markers for the impact of COVID-19 on Australia’s health.

After a significant period of social isolation, several adverse health and social outcomes are expected to present in our population. These could include higher rates of alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence, online gambling addiction, acute conditions and mental health problems.

The need for secure sharing of data across government agencies and the private sector never been more urgent. Imagine if different government agencies responsible for these indicators were able to share data easily with each other and with research or non-government organisations without any risk of breaching confidentiality to inform health and social interventions.

Homomorphic encryption also provides the ability to collaborate with competitors or other organisations in different sectors. What if an airline, a hotel chain and a rental car company wanted to identify customers that they have in common, for the purpose of preparing a joint promotion to those customers?

No company wants to hand over commercially sensitive information or put their customer data at risk. Homomorphic encryption enables the collaborators to see only the information or insights they want without seeing the underlying data.

Progressive privacy

IXUP believes that analytics on encrypted data should become standard practice both when performing analytics within organisations and when collaborating with external parties across multiple data sets.

Homomorphic encryption offers progressive businesses and governments with a modern and safe solution for harnessing the power of data, while always protecting the privacy of their customers and citizens.