Intel and DARPA to collaborate on the ‘holy grail’ of encryption

9 Mar 2021

Image: © Sundry Photography/

The tech firm said that its work with the Department of Defense on fully homomorphic encryption will bolster the security of data processing.

Intel is with working the US Department of Defense to create more advanced cloud encryption processes that the company calls the “holy grail” of encryption.

The research partnership will see Intel collaborate with the department’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) on fully homomorphic encryption, or FHE.

The programme, which will run over several years, is called Data Protection in Virtual Environments and also includes Microsoft as the commercial lead.

Fully homomorphic encryption allows for the processing of data without decrypting it, but the method is still at a rudimentary stage and not yet commercially viable.

If harnessed successfully, it would ensure tighter security of data. But as it stands, FHE takes up a great deal of computing power and time, depending on the volume of data in question, and requires a large “performance tax”, as Intel puts it.

Intel and DARPA will work on ways to improve the speed and efficiency of FHE by designing an application-specific integrated circuit accelerator. The company will test its work with Microsoft on Azure and Microsoft JEDI, its cloud computing venture with the US Department of Defense.

“Fully homomorphic encryption remains the holy grail in the quest to keep data secure while in use,” Intel Labs principal investigator Rosario Cammarota said.

“Despite strong advances in trusted execution environments and other confidential computing technologies to protect data while at rest and in transit, data is unencrypted during computation, opening the possibility of potential attacks at this stage.”

This gap in security and encryption inhibits the full value of data, he said.

William Chappell, chief technology officer of Microsoft Azure, added that if the programme is successful, it would ensure that data is kept fully secure “whether in storage, transit or use”.

Jonathan Keane is a freelance business and technology journalist based in Dublin