MIT Media Labs, in collaboration with two Bitcoin entrepreneurs, has unveiled a project that would protect cloud-based data from being discovered by third-party entities.
Dubbed as Enigma, the project is hoping to meld decades-old data security method, known as “homomorphic encryption”, with the cryptography technology behind the digital currency Bitcoin. Doing so, the creators of Enigma will be maintaining the data’s overall privacy during its propagation from one place to another. The project will apply some mathematical tricks on the data that will make it unreadable to hackers and surveillance parties; and even to the very computers — the blackboxes — that are running computations on it.
“You send whatever data you want, and it runs in the black box and only returns the result,” states one of the aforementioned Bitcoin entrepreneurs, Guy Zyskind. “The actual data is never revealed, neither to the outside nor to the computers running the computations inside.”
The Bitcoin Working Model
As stated above, Enigma is a result of an amalgamation between homomorphic encryption and Bitcoin technology.
A simple-worded technical explanation of its working model goes like this: When a user sends some data to someone, the homographic encryption method breaks the data in multiple segments, and distributes each of this chunk to Enigma’s pre-appointed computers — known as “nodes”. These nodes provide their computational power to recombine the said chunks into its original form. Deciphered they are, the chunks reveal no inside information to these nodes. A Bitcoin blockchain meanwhile keep tracks of all the assigned data segments, so as to make sure that no data is lost or mismanaged during the entire sending process.
“I can take my age, this one piece of data, and split it into pieces, and give it to ten people,” says Zyskind. “If you ask each one of those persons, they have only a random chunk. Only by combining enough of those pieces can they decrypt the original data.”
The Expected Drawbacks
There are indeed few hurdles Enigma is likely to face while pursuing its plans to introduce data privacy. The first and the most obvious one is indeed the requirement of hundreds and thousands of nodes to kick start the obfuscation. The creators however have sketched out a fairly practical plan to resolve this issue. They have introduced a certain incentive methods for the nodes — just as the cryptocurrency Dash, which rewards its masternodes for signing the obfuscated transactions. The process still might end up being sluggish, for the data will need to go through individualistic approvals before reaching its expected destination.