infoTECH Feature

August 11, 2014

The New 'Frontier' of Cloud Security

Hand in hand with the cloud’s ability to provide easily accessible and infinitely convenient data storage is a continuous and pervasive concern pertaining to security.  On-premise is a method of data storage that has been utilized for decades, and in that time, has been fashioned into a proverbial bulwark able to repel most cyber security threats. Cloud storage, however, is a fairly recent innovation relative to the fruition of business computing, and with new technology, as always, comes new and risks and challenges it must overcome.

Pursuing these challenges head on is the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace program who, as of July 31, 2014, awarded a grant to Daniel Wichs of Northeastern University’s College of Computer and Information Science in a project it has termed ‘Frontier’.

Part of a holistic effort to combat cyber fraud, theft, and general malignancy, Frontier encompasses leading researchers from such universities as Northeastern, Boston University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of Connecticut. Also contributing are state government sects and industry experts who, together, are utilizing Massachusetts Open Cloud, a platform created to facilitate a new public cloud computing marketplace, to deploy and asses early stage cloud security enhancements.

According to Wichs, data encryption in the cloud is an area in need of much renovation.

“Encryp­tion is a pro­ce­dure we’ve been thinking about basi­cally since the dawn of time, but we’ve only had good ways of doing it since the 70s,” asserts Wichs. “The problem is that stan­dard ways of encrypting data render it use­less. Once encrypted, there is no way to per­form any com­pu­ta­tion over it.”

An example of this issue, as stated by Angela Herring, science writer for the Northeastern news team, lies in medical patient data. While hospitals are able to store large amounts of encrypted data, they are unable to compute it, for the purposes of analyses, as well as external entities can. Since there is a federal law in place preventing any such patient data sharing, known as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, however, reliance on said external computation is impossible.

Already proving a worthwhile research endeavor, the Frontier team is close to achieving a new method of data encryption that will allow external computation without compromising the integrity of any sensitive data involved.

“I can send you encrypted data, you run the com­pu­ta­tion and then send me back the encrypted answer,” Wichs stated. “I can decrypt the answer because I have the secret key, but you never learn anything.”

For more on cloud security, be sure to check out ITEXPO’s (News - Alert) upcoming ‘Do Your Customers Trust Your Cloud?’ on Monday, August 11, 2014, at 12:30pm in Las Vegas, Nev. Keep up with all the latest ITEXPO developments here, and don’t miss your chance to rub elbows with some of the very best in IT. Follow the event on Twitter (News - Alert) at @ITEXPO.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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