An Intro to Confidential Computing

Cloud computing continues to grow in popularity, and lots of organizations rely on the technology for daily operations. In fact, according to a 2022 Flexera report, 94% of enterprises use the cloud. This form of computing offers a variety of benefits:

  • Including scalability
  • Higher speeds
  • Automatic updates
  • Reduced cost

But, even amid its myriad of benefits there exists some disadvantages — some of the most concerning being data leakage, loss and theft, as well as its vulnerability to things like distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks.

The good news is that technologies have been developed to help patch up the vulnerabilities that come along with cloud-based computing. We're inching ever closer to what could be a near-perfect computing solution — all thanks to something called confidential computing.

What is confidential computing?

Confidential computing has been around for a while, but it's not until fairly recently that it's started to make waves. Essentially, it's an emerging industry initiative and a form of technology that's capable of isolating and encrypting data in use — or, data that's in a processing phase within a central processing unit (CPU).

Cloud security isn't a new concept and data encryption for stored and in-transit data has been the norm for quite some time now. But, with confidential computing, encryption goes beyond those two stages to include data that is currently in use or being processed. With this technology, organizations are able to better encrypt data and protect entire applications while they are being used — something that was difficult to achieve before the introduction of the tech.

A gold 2D cloud with a keyhole against a background of codeConfidential computing is gaining popularity, and organizations like the CCC are trying to make it the norm.

What is meant by "data in use?"

In information technology, "data in use" refers to active data that is working its way through an IT architecture or even data that is active while in storage. Depending on where data is within these systems, it's prone to different vulnerabilities. This is a large reason why confidential computing is so important today, as it's capable of protecting data in use no matter where it's currently active.

With this technology, data in use is finally eligible for the same protection as when it's dormant in storage and even in transit — something thought near-impossible just a handful of years ago.

How does confidential computing works

Confidential computing works by separating data into an isolated environment within the processor. Most commonly, that isolated area is called a trusted execution environment (TEE) and is separated from the processor's main operating system (OS).

This effectively separates software and data from hardware, providing end-to-end encryption that is even hidden from the cloud provider itself.

The benefits of confidential computing

So, what do the benefits of confidential computing look like in real-world scenarios? Here are a few that come to mind:

Protect applications and data that are in use

As organizations look to move away from in-house solutions in favor of cloud computing, one of the main boundaries was the lack of encryption. But now, with confidential computing, organizations can take full advantage of the benefits offered by cloud computing environments with the encryption that they need.

Secure intellectual property

Confidential commuting technology isn't wholly limited to data protection. Included under its umbrella of benefits is intellectual property protection. That includes things like proprietary software and business logic, algorithms and even entire applications.

Boost customer confidence

Customers shouldn't have to choose between their technical needs or security. Confidential computing technology boosts customer confidence by offering the security that people need with the technical capability and benefits that they've come to expect from cloud computing.

The Confidential Computing Consortium (CCC)

The Confidential Computing Consortium was formed in 2019 by some of the world's largest and most renowned players in the CPU manufacturing industry, including: VMware, Tencent, Swisscom, Baidu, AMD, Alibaba, Google, IBM/Red Hat, Microsoft, Intel and Oracle.

The Consortium was contrived in response to the growing demand for confidential computing with the intention of developing a comprehensive set of organizational standards and guidelines for the technology across industries.

From their website: "The Confidential Computing Consortium (CCC) brings together hardware vendors, cloud providers, and software developers to accelerate the adoption of Trusted Execution Environment (TEE) technologies and standards."

A large part of the CCCs mission is to advocate for and develop open source tools for confidential computing in order to make them accessible at a large scale; providing tools for developers that are working on securing data in use.

For more information on the CCC, their mission, whitepapers, webinars and FAQs, visit their website.

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