Advantages of Homomorphic Encryption

Data security is vital in today’s digital world, and data encryption is a crucial component. Homomorphic encryption is a security method that lets you directly perform computations on encrypted data without decryption, allowing sensitive information to remain private.

Homomorphic encryption can help organizations maintain a high level of data security without reducing productivity or violating protocols. It can greatly increase data privacy and security in a variety of applications.


Advantages and Disadvantages of Homomorphic Encryption

Like all new technology, homomorphic encryption comes with both advantages and disadvantages. Although there are some challenges to homomorphic encryption, the vast amount of data transferred every day through platforms like e-commerce websites and mobile devices requires—and deserves—the powerful and nearly impenetrable security that homomorphic encryption provides.

Why Homomorphic Encryption Is Important Now

Much of humankind’s private information is located on computer servers and the cloud. The world is digitizing, thanks in part to online shopping and a larger remote workforce than ever before. In order to protect bank accounts, medical records, voting records, and other aspects of a person’s self-sovereign identity, companies and cloud providers must create impassable security methods.

Data encryption—and, in particular, homomorphic encryption—is one of the most powerful computer-based security technologies available. To keep private and sensitive data secure across a cloud or a distributed ledger, it should be implemented immediately.

Challenges of Homomorphic Encryption

Unfortunately, homomorphic encryption does have challenges. First, it’s a complex process. Each encryption algorithm (PDF, 8 MB) is difficult to create and implement, and producing a valid result for each computation can be time-consuming.

In addition, this encryption technique is still in an early phase. Many of the algorithms used in homomorphic encryption are licensed by private companies and not widely available. Fortunately, some alternatives to homomorphic encryption have emerged for use in the interim.

Alternatives to Homomorphic Encryption

While the world waits for homomorphic encryption to become more accessible, several software companies have developed programs to enhance data privacy. One of the most popular alternatives to homomorphic encryption is cryptography.

Cryptography uses different methods to hide information, including microdots and scrambling text and images. Methods like elliptic curve cryptography encrypt plaintext as ciphertext that must be decrypted in order for someone to access the data in a readable format.

The downside is that talented cybercriminals can still hack through some of these encryptions and access private data. Conversely, homomorphic encryption requires different keys to access any amount of encrypted data. Since the owner of the data block controls each key, homomorphic encryption is more secure than cryptography.


A Review of Homomorphic Encryption and Its Applications

Homomorphic encryption can be used for everything from securing cloud-stored data to allowing third parties to analyze data without accessing sensitive information.

Experts hope this encryption method can also eventually be used to protect voters and improve election security. Indeed, the overall purpose of homomorphic encryption is to allow data analysis while keeping confidential information invisible to the analyzers.

The Purpose of Homomorphic Encryption

The purpose of homomorphic encryption is to allow mathematic calculations to be performed on encrypted data while still maintaining the data’s security. This type of encryption algorithm keeps the raw, original data private during each operation or computation.

Data privacy is important for both fixed and mobile networks. Thanks to the homomorphic encryption method, private information stays private whether you store your information on a server or with a cloud provider.

Different Types of Homomorphic Encryption

There are three main types of homomorphic encryption:

  • Partially homomorphic encryption allows a single operation to be performed on encrypted data an unlimited number of times. This is the easiest encryption algorithm to create. The first and perhaps the most famous homomorphic encryption scheme, the Paillier algorithm, falls into this category.
  • Somewhat homomorphic encryption allows any operation to be performed only a predetermined quantity of times. Although each operation can be different, this encryption scheme will produce invalid results if the operation total exceeds the limit.
  • Fully homomorphic encryption is the most difficult encryption scheme to set up. However, it also provides the best security. This type of encryption algorithm will produce valid results even after an infinite number of operations are run on the ciphertext.

While each type of homomorphic encryption is better than no encryption at all, companies and industries that store sensitive data should aim for fully homomorphic encryption.

Fully Homomorphic Encryption

Fully homomorphic encryption is the gold standard for encrypted data security. A user can run ciphertext computations an infinite number of times and receive plaintext results without having access to private or sensitive information.

All businesses should protect their data by using fully homomorphic encryption—or at least getting as close to it as they can. Since one entity owns the data block, they hold a sort of master decryption key. They can provide users with “sub keys” to unlock smaller sections of the data while still maintaining data privacy.

Industries with extremely sensitive data or vast amounts of data make good use of homomorphic encryption. However, the ultimate goal is for all industries to use this encryption method, especially if they use cloud computing.


Why Homomorphic Encryption Is Used in Cloud Computing

Cloud computing has been on the rise in recent years as companies have become more digital. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the need for cloud-stored data when companies across the globe were forced to work remotely.

Although cloud computing allows convenient access to company platforms from anywhere an employee is located, it does come with certain security risks. Fortunately, homomorphic encryption can help mitigate these risks. 

Security Risks of Cloud Computing

Each cloud provider must continually monitor and adapt to security risks. The most obvious risk is a cyberattack, which often takes place in the form of malware. Cybercriminals have been able to keep up with evolving cloud security methods, and cloud providers face pressure to stay several steps ahead.

However, wrongdoers are not responsible for all security risks. Sometimes the biggest risk is caused by the cloud provider or user. If the provider doesn’t ensure that a client knows exactly how to use their security system, the user could accidentally cause a data leakage that leaves proprietary company information and private data unsecured.

Further, the cloud provider must remain compliant with all required industry standards. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) have particularly strict compliance criteria because of the extremely sensitive information contained in their databases. Failure to comply with these rules could lead to widespread security issues, like a data breach, as well as incurring fines of up to €20 million.

The good news is that homomorphic encryption works in cloud computing to lessen these risks and prevent security breaches before they happen.

How Homomorphic Encryption Works in Cloud Computing

When you store data with a cloud provider, you own the encryption key to the entire stored data block. If your company or a third party needs to perform analytics or computations on the data, you control exactly what each user sees.

Homomorphic encryption allows a user to decrypt only the portion of the data block that they need from the cloud. The private data is kept securely locked up, but the analytics still provide valid results.

This is particularly important if a user is accessing the data in an untrusted environment such as a public cloud. With the homomorphic encryption technique, the data remains encrypted at all times, thus reducing the chance that your data becomes compromised. In other words, homomorphic encryption enhances cloud security.

Barriers to Using Homomorphic Encryption in Cloud Computing

As technologies like cloud computing and machine learning evolve, homomorphic encryption has become a popular data security method. However, there are a couple barriers in the way.

The first barrier is performance. Although fully homomorphic encryption is an excellent security boon for cloud computing, it increases the time that each operation takes. This can be particularly frustrating when various individuals or companies attempt a multiparty computation across a distributed ledger. Each party might have a different decryption key, so it can take some time for the ciphertext to display as a plaintext result.

Availability has proven to be a second barrier. Although the Paillier algorithm was invented in 1999, homomorphic encryption is still developing and growing. Thus, it is not yet available to all industries. However, as new systems evolve and technology spreads, this encryption technique should be more accessible to companies across the globe in the coming years.


Pros and Cons of Homomorphic Encryption Implementation in a Cloud Database

When companies implement fully homomorphic encryption within their cloud database, they dramatically decrease the likelihood of a security breach or data leak. However, since cloud storage is inherently accessible from anywhere in the world, companies must encrypt their cloud content to keep it private.

Not all encryption methods are compatible with every cloud provider, so it is possible that encrypting content could hamper cloud functionality. Fortunately, there are ways to effectively encrypt cloud-stored data without losing any functionality.

How to Encrypt Cloud Content without Losing Cloud Functionality

One of the reasons that homomorphic encryption is such a powerful security tool is because it allows organizations to establish a high standard of data security without negatively affecting the functionality of their programs and applications.

The best way to encrypt cloud content without losing cloud functionality is to encrypt each data block before you upload it. This allows you to retain the encryption key and control which parties may access and decrypt the information.

Each cloud provider has a different preferred method, so the steps you need to take vary depending on who stores your private data.

How to Implement a Homomorphic Encryption Scheme

Implementing a homomorphic encryption scheme takes time. The best implementation method depends on factors like your company’s industry, its size, and your data’s level of sensitivity. For example, because medical information must be protected under HIPAA’s strict compliance regulations, implementing an intense encryption technique takes longer in the medical field than for a manufacturer who wants to protect intellectual property.

However, there are a few basic steps to follow regardless of the type and quantity of data you must store. These steps include choosing the following components:

  • the right algorithm to transform ciphertext to plaintext
  • the best keys to encrypt and decrypt your data
  • the cloud provider that will best accomplish all your security goals and keep you compliant

Once you’ve implemented your encryption scheme, you can look for ways to accelerate it. Although some experts have voiced concern about 5G security, more and more networks are being built across the world. Because performance is one of the barriers to homomorphic encryption, high-speed 5G networks offer hope to overcome that obstacle.

Ways to Accelerate Homomorphic Encryption

One of the best ways to accelerate homomorphic encryption is bootstrapping. Here, you allow the ciphertext to refresh, which can boost a partially or somewhat homomorphic encryption scheme into a full one.

Additionally, 5G may prove to speed up the encryption process. The more 5G networks that are built, the faster the encryption process will become. And once 5G and homomorphic encryption are widely available to the entire world, more companies will be able to secure their data quickly and effectively.


Homomorphic Encryption Helps the World’s Data Remain Secure

As the world’s largest technical professional organization for the advancement of technology, IEEE understands how important data privacy is. When data is protected by measures such as homomorphic encryption, the world is a more secure place. 

Interested in joining IEEE Digital Privacy? IEEE Digital Privacy is an IEEE-wide effort dedicated to champion the digital privacy needs of the individuals. This initiative strives to bring the voice of technologists to the digital privacy discussion and solutions, incorporating a holistic approach to address privacy that also includes economic, legal, and social perspectives. Join the IEEE Digital Privacy Community to stay involved with the initiative program activities and connect with others in the field.