Bitcoin entrepreneur Oz Nathan and MIT Media Lab graduate researcher recently announced the near completion of their homomorphic encryption scheme – a bitcoin-inspired cloud network that promises to keep sensitive information safe by separating it into indecipherable puzzle pieces. (via MIT)
Imagine a world where your personal data was always secure online. A new homomorphic encryption scheme intends to create just that. The cloud network, Enigma, is based on the cryptography behind bitcoin, allowing user data to travel across the internet as a random chunk of data, never decipherable to anyone other than the original sender.
Enigma is the brainchild of bitcoin entrepreneur Oz Nathan and his partner in crime, MIT Media Lab graduate researcher and bitcoin entrepreneur Guy Zyskind. The team wanted to create a homomorphic encryption – a mathematical structure that decomposed data into random chunks so third party viewers cannot compromise user information. The code would break sensitive information, such as a medical patient’s social security number, into random chunks of information across countless parties. The data could only be decoded if a hacker had all of the pieces of the information, which Zyskind said was nearly impossible.
Zyskind said Enigma would incentivize users for playing fair. Each user of the cloud network will be asked to keep a type of security deposit in the system to ensure their honesty. If a user decides to try and compromise any data, that deposit will be seized and distributed to all other users.
Zyskind said in addition to this ‘buddy system,’ 51 percent of the entire Enigma network would need to band together for its exploitation in order for hackers to have enough data puzzle pieces to decipher any information. The MIT researcher said it would be highly unlikely. Bitcoin uses the same type of system, and hasn’t had any issues to date.
Bitcoin’s cryptography was the inspiration for Enigma. While it surely isn’t the only example of a secure cryptography, it is unique in its blockchain, which copies thousands of messages to prevent fraud. The new currency also uses a process called secure multiparty computation, which decomposes data into chunks called nodes that are essentially gibberish, unless multiple users ban together to decipher a particular code – again, a scheme that has yet to be proven worthwhile.
Enigma is the first cloud network based on Bitcoin backend technology, but it isn’t the first functional homomorphic encryption. IBM researcher Craig Gentry created one of the first relatively successful schemes back in 2009. It was a fully functional encryption that kept information secure through a simple mathematical structure. Gentry, unfortunately, had no luck in competing with the speed of less secure networks. His encryption took one million times as long to process the same amount of information as a basic search engine, such as Google. Nathan and Zyskind’s encryption functions at about one hundred times that speed of a normal computation and the entrepreneurs hope to increase that tenfold before the official launch of the network.
Enigma will begin Beta testing soon. Anyone interested in the soft launch can sign up for early access on the main website. Users will be able to use the network for profit through things like advertisements, just like any other online network. The kinks have not yet been worked out entirely, but the new platform looks promising for organizations that possess large amounts of sensitive information, such as health insurance companies and financial institutions. Nathan and Zyskind likely derived inspiration from Bitcoin because of their familiarity with the online currency. It will be exciting to see what other homomorphic schemes are created to ensure user privacy in the near future.
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