Access and Feeds

Confidential Computing: The Missing Key for Enabling Complete Security

By Dick Weisinger

Private-key encryption is the tool we use to protect data that is stored on disk. SSL and TLS are protocols designed to protect the transmission of data from point A to point B securely. But in order to sue data for computations, data is decrypted for processing, and that presents a security problem because the unencrypted data is exposed in computer memory during processed.

The last step of protection, securing data during computations, is what researchers are calling “Confidential Computing”.

Mark Knight, director of architecture products at Arm, said that “while protecting data at rest and data in transit are long-established techniques, protecting data while it’s actively being processed has remained a harder challenge.”

Marcel Mitran, CTO at IBM’s LinuxONE, said that “you have this gentleman’s agreement with the cloud provider that they can host your sensitive data in the cloud and they promise not to touch it, they promise not to look at it, and they promise not to do bad things with it. But the reality is that at the end of the day, a promise is only a promise. There are bad actors out there. People make mistakes.”

Hillery Hunter, CTO at IBM, said that “this is part of what we view as unlocking the next generation of cloud adoption. It’s very much about getting clients to look not just at the first really obvious consumer mobile app kind of things to do on a public cloud. There’s a second generation of cloud workload considerations that are more at the core of these businesses that relate to more sensitive data. That’s where security needs to be considered upfront in the overall design.”

Cloud vendors are beginning to solve the confidential computing problem by adopting specialized CPU chips that accept the input of encrypted data but that have a secure inner CPU area where the data is decrypted that is protected from external access. IBM calls their solution a CPU with a trusted-execution environment (TEE).

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