Fortanix Unlocks the Power of Confidential Computing

ambuj kumar fortanix
Ambuj Kumar
Published:Apr 6, 2021
Reading Time:4 Minutes

Just under five years ago Fortanix was founded on the vision of a new approach to security: Confidential Computing.

A few years and many technical challenges later, this vision took a big step forward today with the announcement by Intel, Fortanix strategic partner and investor, of their Ice Lake 3rd Gen Intel® Xeon® Scalable processors.

This seems like a good time to step back and look where we have come from and what lies ahead.

From Runtime Encryption to Confidential Computing

Fortanix started with a simple observation. We were going to great lengths to protect data at rest and in motion, but then what happened when it was being used?

Private data, personally identifiable information, even encryption keys went from locked up to sitting exposed in memory at run time.

Thus, was born the concept of runtime encryption, made possible by the first releases of Intel Software Guard Extensions (SGX). Fortanix was the first company to deliver production applications of Intel SGX.

As more people realized the power of Intel SGX a broader concept of confidential computing arose, incorporating the concepts and approaches of runtime encryption.

The core purpose, however, remains the same: allow private data to be processed within hardware secured enclaves, protecting both the data that is being processed and the application that is processing it.

You can get more information on how Fortanix approaches confidential computing on our website. Fortanix continues to help shape the industry’s thinking on confidential computing through our ongoing participation and leadership roles in the Confidential Computing Consortium.

Protecting Financial Privacy

Global financial services companies were among the first to see the power of Fortanix confidential computing technology and continue to be our largest customers and customer segment.

The unique intersection of huge quantities of data that must be kept private, data sovereignty requirements, an elevated threat environment, and forward-thinking technology adoption all have created demand for a new approach to data security.

Companies like PayPal and Standard Chartered Bank have shared their experience working with Fortanix at industry events.

While initial use cases focused on foundational data security and encryption, new projects are now exploring the full power of confidential computing for privacy preserving analytics, protection of proprietary algorithms, and operations in hostile environments.

Particularly exciting is the project we are doing with Consilient for anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT).

Trillions of dollars in illicit transactions move through the global financial system every year, less than 1% of which is intercepted by authorities.

Consilient is using Fortanix Confidential Computing Manager as part of a federated learning solution that allows financial institutions to share and learn from each other’s data. Initial trials already show massive improvements over existing systems.

Making the World a Healthier Place

More recently, healthcare and life sciences are quickly emerging as the epicenter of confidential computing projects. Lifesaving insights and better health outcomes for all lie within our collective medical histories.

For the first time confidential computing makes it possible to extract those insights while maintaining individual privacy.

Last October Fortanix announced a new partnership with UC San Francisco’s Center for Digital Health Innovation (CDHI), Microsoft and Intel to develop BeeKeeperAI as a platform where AI algorithms can be trained securely using real people’s medical records.

What started as a prototype is now developing new clinical algorithms, something we’ll talk more about on April 29 in our Fortanix / UC San Francisco webinar “Zero Trust: Accelerating the Development of Healthcare AI”.

As part of the Ice Lake announcement Intel published a new case study highlighting the role Fortanix is playing in a new solution developed by Leidos to help streamline and accelerate the clinical drug trial process.

The objective here is to leverage existing real-world data, such as electronic medical records gathered from medical groups, while preserving patient privacy and complying with HIPAA and other regulations.

A similar effort with Accenture has a yielded a proof of concept for hospitals to share data to better detect sepsis, a life-threatening condition that can occur as the body responds to infection.

All these projects use Fortanix Confidential Computing Manager to orchestrate applications in secure enclaves as well as to encrypt and tokenize sensitive data.

In these use cases and more come the opportunities for advanced technology to directly improve lives.

A Platform for General Purpose Confidential Computing

Ultimately broad adoption and utilization of confidential computing will require pervasive availability of confidential computing platforms that are equally accessible to developers and users.

Fortanix Confidential Computing Manager serves this need on the software side. For servers, the Intel Ice Lake announcement is a key step forward, enabling support for enterprise scale workloads with Intel SGX.

Fortanix is already working with server vendors collectively holding over 80% market share to define general purpose confidential computing platforms, including Hewlett-Packard Enterprise.

HPE shared their perspective on the power of SGX in a blog post on the topic. You can expect Fortanix to continue to work with leaders in computing platforms and technologies, both in the data center and in the cloud, to support the broadest possible utilization of confidential computing.

One of the reasons many of us work in technology is the belief that innovation can make the world a better place. I’d like to think confidential computing is a good reminder that this is still the case.

I look forward to sharing more with you in the months ahead as Fortanix continues to make this a reality.

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