Feeds

Modern 'primitive' could ease the pain of encrypting massive amounts of data

Multiple criteria for identity-based encryption

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

Researchers have devised an encryption scheme that could simplify the protection of sensitive information by allowing banks, hospitals and other organizations to lock files using keys that are based on specific attributes, such as an employee's position or geographic location.

The method, which was unveiled last week, adds to the growing body of research known as functional, or attribute-based encryption. Functional encryption is designed to solve the hassle tied to traditional public-key encryption resulting from distributing and managing thousands or millions of private keys authorized people need to decrypt protected data. If 1,000 people in an organization need to securely share their public key with their co-workers, that requires close to one million separate exchanges.

Functional encryption tries to simplify things. It allows data to be encrypted using attributes directly tied to the recipients, such as their names or email addresses, without the need for the parties to have exchanged keys ahead of time. Rather than relying on a single key that unlocks all data, functional encryption envisions a more flexible sort of system where a personal key unlocks some doors but not others.

For example, medical records for George Clooney, which in October were improperly accessed by snooping hospital employees, would be available only for people meeting multiple criteria, such as (a) a doctor, nurse or accountant who is (b) directly responsible for the actor's medical care or billing.

One hindrance to functional encryption is a phenomenon known as collusion, which allows attackers to gain unauthorized access by combining the attributes of multiple individuals, for example, an unrelated doctor and the accountant handling billing.

Researchers Amit Sahai from UCLA, Brent Waters of SRI International and Jonathan Katz of the University of Maryland, have surmounted, to some degree, this shortcoming. In a research paper (PDF), released at the Eurocrypt 2008 conference, they describe a new cryptographically strong "primitive" that advances functional encryption by allowing the encryption of database results based on multiple fields. A primitive is a building block used to put together an encryption system.

While the functional encryption holds out promise, don't expect it to stanch the steady stream of data breaches that have flowed out of the medical, financial and government sectors over the past few years. Functional encryption, which is related to IBE, or identity-based encryption, is saddled with administrative burdens in much the way traditional systems are.

"IBE-based systems can make it easy to assign credentials, but there's still a central server that sets the policy on these things," said Nate Lawson, principal at Root Labs, which helps companies design and analyze secure embedded systems and encryption. "Any kind of scheme will require very fine-grained management of access control so it will still require high overhead of management, and that's unavoidable."

Karsten Nohl, a graduate student at the University of Virginia focusing on encryption, agrees that IBE merely allows database architects to "move the bottleneck around". But in providing alternatives, IBE is a paradigm that's likely to change the way data is secured.

"It promises to solve the key distribution and management problem that has pretty much plagued every encryption scheme ever since encryption was invented and has become particularly challenging with the large scale of the internet," he said. ®

The essential guide to IT transformation

More from The Register

next story
Goog says patch⁵⁰ your Chrome
64-bit browser loads cat vids FIFTEEN PERCENT faster!
Chinese hackers spied on investigators of Flight MH370 - report
Classified data on flight's disappearance pinched
NIST to sysadmins: clean up your SSH mess
Too many keys, too badly managed
Scratched PC-dispatch patch patched, hatched in batch rematch
Windows security update fixed after triggering blue screens (and screams) of death
Researchers camouflage haxxor traps with fake application traffic
Honeypots sweetened to resemble actual workloads, complete with 'secure' logins
prev story

Whitepapers

Top 10 endpoint backup mistakes
Avoid the ten endpoint backup mistakes to ensure that your critical corporate data is protected and end user productivity is improved.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Backing up distributed data
Eliminating the redundant use of bandwidth and storage capacity and application consolidation in the modern data center.
The essential guide to IT transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIOs automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.