Confidential computing is an emerging technology. It was developed in response to the increasing need for secure and trusted processing of sensitive data.
As organizations increasingly rely on cloud services to store and process data, concerns have arisen around the security and privacy of that data, particularly when it comes to confidential information.
Traditional cloud computing relies on various security mechanisms, such as encryption and access controls, to protect data.
However, these mechanisms may not provide sufficient protection for sensitive data processed in the cloud as they rely on trust in the cloud provider and the underlying hardware.
Confidential computing was developed as a means of addressing this trust gap by providing a way to process sensitive data in a secure and trusted environment, even in the presence of potentially compromised cloud providers or hardware.
Let’s see what this confidential computing is all about and how it works.
What is Confidential Computing?
Confidential Computing is an approach to data security that enables the processing and storage of sensitive information in a secure & trusted environment. It protects data at rest, in use, and in transit by encrypting and keeping data confidential even from the infrastructure where it’s processed.
The primary objective of confidential computing is to provide a trusted execution environment (TEE) that ensures data privacy and security throughout the entire processing lifecycle.
TEEs use hardware-based security mechanisms such as trusted platform modules (TPMs) and secure enclaves to protect data from unauthorized access and even by privileged users.
Secure enclaves are nothing but isolated hardware components that create a secure execution environment within a processor. They can execute code and processes in isolation from the rest of the system, which ensures the confidentiality and integrity of the data being processed.
Intel SGX and ARM TrustZone are two examples of confidential computing technologies that make use of secure enclaves.
How does Confidential Computing work?
Confidential Computing is a set of technologies and techniques that aim to protect data & applications during processing, which is a time when sensitive information can be vulnerable to unauthorized access or tampering.
Typically, data is unencrypted in memory before it is processed. It leads to security compromises.
Confidential Computing solves this problem by leveraging a trusted execution environment (TEE), which is a secure enclave within a CPU that is protected by embedded encryption keys and authentication mechanisms.
When data is processed in a TEE, it remains encrypted in memory until the application instructs the TEE to decrypt it for processing.
The TEE provides an isolated environment for data processing, and it prevents unauthorized access to the data or the encryption keys. Even if the underlying host environment is compromised, the TEE can prevent access to the data, ensuring its confidentiality and integrity.
During the processing of data in a TEE, the data is invisible to the operating system, hypervisor, and other compute stack resources.
This means that cloud providers and their employees cannot access the data, providing an additional layer of security.
By using TEEs and other confidential computing technologies, organizations can protect their sensitive data and applications from a range of security threats, including malware, root user exploits, and other types of attacks.
Reasons to adopt Confidential Computing
Here are some reasons why organizations should use confidential computing.
#1. Protect sensitive data
Confidential Computing helps to protect sensitive data, such as healthcare records and personal information. It ensures that this data is kept confidential even while being processed by using encryption and other security measures.
#2. Meet compliance requirements
Many industries have strict compliance regulations such as GDPR and HIPAA. Confidential Computing can help organizations meet these regulations by ensuring that sensitive data is kept secure throughout the entire processing lifecycle.
#3. Enable secure collaborations
Some organizations need to collaborate with suppliers and other third parties, but sharing sensitive data can be risky. Confidential Computing can help facilitate secure collaborations by enabling organizations to share data in a secure environment while keeping it confidential and protected from external attacks.
#4. Increased trust
By assuring that sensitive data is handled securely and transparently, confidential computing can boost confidence among participants. This can be especially crucial in scenarios involving several parties, such as supply chain management or financial transactions.
#5. Cost Savings
Confidential Computing can also reduce costs associated with data breaches and compliance violations. By preventing these incidents, businesses can save money on legal fees, fines, and other expenses.
What is Confidential Computing Consortium?
The Confidential Computing Consortium (CCC) is a collaborative group of technology companies and organizations that work to promote the adoption & development of trusted execution environments.
It aims to develop open standards and frameworks that enable developers to build and deploy secure applications & services across different computing environments, such as public and private clouds, edge devices, and on-premises data centers.
The CCC aims to achieve its objectives through open governance and collaboration among its members, which include leading technology companies and organizations such as Google, IBM/Red Hat, Intel, AMD, Microsoft, Alibaba, Oracle, VMware, and many more.
The consortium’s main activities include defining industry-wide standards, promoting the development of open-source tools & best practices, and supporting research and education in confidential computing.
You can find more information about this consortium on the CCC website. Feel free to visit if you want to watch the confidential computing webinars.
And here are some of the use cases for confidential computing:
Healthcare and Research
Confidential computing technology can also be used to enable secure multi-party training of AI algorithms for disease detection and other purposes. This can help hospitals and research institutions to collaborate and share data while maintaining the privacy and confidentiality of patient data.
Secure data sharing across can be made possible with the use of confidential computing across various participants in the supply chain, including suppliers, manufacturers, and retailers. This can support collaboration and boost logistics performance.
Information about shipping routes, delivery timetables, and vehicle monitoring can all be utilized to ensure the security of logistics and transportation data.
Confidential Computing is becoming increasingly important in the finance industry due to the sensitive nature of financial data, including personal information and transaction data.
It is used to handle financial transactions securely, ensuring the data is encrypted and secured from unauthorized access. This helps prevent fraud and data breaches and improves the overall security of financial systems.
Internet of Things
It can also be utilized in IoT devices to safely process personal data like biometrics, location, and personal details. This can enhance the overall security of IoT systems and help prevent unauthorized access.
As more organizations move to the cloud and rely on digital infrastructure to conduct their business operations, the need for secure computing solutions will only continue to grow.
Confidential Computing provides a versatile and important solution to this challenge which helps organizations to secure their data, build trust with their customers, and maintain compliance with regulatory requirements.
The goal of confidential computing is to ensure that sensitive data is always kept encrypted and processed within a secure environment. So that even if an attacker gains access to the underlying hardware or cloud provider, they will not be able to access the sensitive data.
This is achieved through the use of specialized hardware and software such as Trusted Execution Environment and encrypted memory & storage.
Hey there, my name is Ashlin, and I’m a senior technical writer. I’ve been in the game for a while now, and I specialize in writing about all sorts of cool technology topics like Linux, Networking, Security, Dev Tools, Data Analytics, and Cloud… read more