What is Homomorphic Encryption & How is it Used?

How do industries like healthcare allow potentially life-saving access to private information without compromising privacy or violating regulations? The conundrum between accessing information and its privacy and security is found in many industries, including healthcare. What can be done if accessing private information can help save lives, but hospitals must respect the HIPAA privacy rule? Homomorphic encryption, is available and can grant access to restricted information while completely respecting privacy and retaining security. Homomorphic encryption is an encryption scheme that allows analysis of the information to be performed on encrypted data, giving the same results as if the analysis was performed on plaintext data. 

What is Homomorphic Encryption?

Homomorphic encryption converts data into ciphertext that allows the encrypted data to be used as if it weren’t encrypted. Complex mathematical operations can be done on homomorphically encrypted data without any compromise of security. And the results will be the same as if the operations were performed on unencrypted data. 

The root of the word “Homomorphic” is Greek for “same structure.” In mathematics, when a data set is transformed into a different set while both sets retain a relationship, this is called homomorphic. When data is homomorphically encrypted, it retains the same structure as the original data set, allowing mathematical operations to be performed and finding the same result on either data set. 

Uses of Homomorphic Encryption

Here are some potential uses of homomorphic encryption in several different industries.

1. Cloud Computing

There is excellent potential in cloud computing for the application of homomorphic encryption. Companies could take advantage of public cloud providers’ analytic services if they were able to store their information with homomorphic encryption. Using this style of encryption, companies don’t need to depend on the third party’s security. Yes, it may be currently challenging for companies to do this and take advantage of the storage, processing, and analytics capabilities securely, but it can be done. It will likely become more accessible in the future. The ability for homomorphic encryption to block access to data without the exact decryption key will allow industries (Healthcare, financial, etc.) that handle sensitive data to do so more securely. 

2. Regulatory Compliance

Companies that deal with regulatory compliance can benefit from homomorphic encryption. To give an example, the EU (European Union) requires companies outside its purview to comply with its General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requirements. The GDPR requires EU data to stay within the EU or in countries with similar standards for data security. These requirements don’t apply to encrypted data, so companies can use homomorphic encryption to remain in compliance. 

3. Supply Chain Protection

Cybercriminals targeting supply chains are on the rise. Homomorphic encryption can help companies protect their supply chains. When data given to a third party is encrypted and can stay encrypted, a company’s supply chain will remain uninterrupted even if that third party is breached. 

4. Targeted Advertising

Many organizations could take advantage of homomorphic encryption to make selling data to third parties for targeted advertising more effective. For example, Meta (formerly known as Facebook) sells user data to third parties for targeted advertising. With homomorphic encryption, they could do analytics on that data without actually viewing the private data, which could lead to more effective targeted advertising. 

Benefits of Homomorphic Encryption

1. Third parties are not trusted.

Data stays private and secure in third-party or untrusted environments. This includes any external party or public cloud. While in these untrusted environments, the data remains fully encrypted. While not a foolproof guarantee against compromise, the data is far more likely to remain secure. 

2. There’s no trade-off between data privacy and data usability.

 

With many privacy models or technologies, there is a trade-off between data privacy and data usability. Homomorphic encryption allows for complete data access without privacy being compromised. 

3. It is resistant to quantum attack. 

As new security threats arise, new ways to defend against them also come into play. Fully homomorphic encryptions have been shown to be quite resistant to quantum attacks

 

Limitations of Homomorphic Encryption

One of the main limitations of homomorphic encryption is the potential for poor performance. Speed of computation can be an issue, as are issues with accuracy. The use of this technology with incredibly complex programs may only be applicable commercially at a later time. Experts in the field of homomorphic encryption say that the research into homomorphic encryption will likely need to continue for many years. However, it is fully developed enough to be useful today, mainly when used in combination with other privacy-related technologies.

Homomorphic Encryption and Encora

Encora’s software engineers are well-versed and highly skilled in the use of homomorphic encryption across a wide range of industries. Companies who want to take advantage of the many benefits of homomorphic encryption can reach out to Encora today! 

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