IBM cryptographer Gentry wins Genius Grant

Work by IBM computer scientist and new MacArthur Fellow Craig Gentry could lead to more secure cloud computing.

Craig Gentry IBM
Credit: MacArthur Foundation
Craig Gentry IBM MacArthur Foundation

The MacArthur Foundation's Class of 2014 "Genius Grant" winners includes a civil rights lawyer, a cartoonist, a mathematician and a jazz composer, but the one new fellow most of interest to the Network World audience is an IBM cryptographer named Craig Gentry.

The Thomas J. Watson Research Center's Gentry first caught our attention back in 2009 when IBM announced its researcher's breakthrough in the area of "fully homomorphic encryption" -- that is enabling computer systems to perform calculations on encrypted data without decrypting it (IBM received a patent for this method in 2013). This could have huge ramifications in the cloud, for everything from search engines to e-commerce services.

RELATED: GP creator, other top cryptographers head 2014 National Cyber Security Hall of Fame class

Though some security experts say huge improvements in computing power might need to be had before fully homomorphic encryption can really be put to widespread use. And even Gentry's $625K MacArthur grant (paid over 5 years) might not be able to buy him that much oomph.

But Gentry tells VentureBeat that there will be demand for the technology, sometimes dubbed FHE:

“I think it’ll be used by certain entities like government and maybe the health care industry, where there’s a really strong incentive both to use cloud computation and to maintain secrecy,” he said. “So, where the incentives are really strong and where they can tolerate a performance hit a big performance hit.”

Hear Gentry describe what he does here:

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