MIT's 'Enigma' system uses bitcoin tricks to share encrypted data

The MIT Media Lab and two bitcoin experts have unveiled a prototype encryption system that lets you share it with a third party (or be computed with), without anyone else decrypting it. It means untrusted computers could still be tasked with dealing with sensitive data, but without putting said data at any risk. The trick is called homomorphic encryption, which MIT's Guy Zyskind compares to a black box: "You send whatever data you want, and it runs in the black box and only returns the result. The actual data is never revealed." It does this by hacking up the data into pieces and randomly spreading parts across hundreds of computers in the Enigma (the name of the prototype) network.

At each node of this network, calculations are performed before the user pulls all the constituent parts back together. The nodes, en masse, can collective do the thinking, even without seeing the rest of the orginal data. The system uses the same anti-fraud record that's found in the bitcoin blockchain. As mentioned in Wired, this could lead to some very interesting conclusions: a search engine request that returns results, but never sees the user's original search, the ability to share sensitive medical data with medical companies and advertisers without privacy risks. Oz Nathan, Enigma's co-creator said:"No one wants to give their data to some company when you don't know what they'll do with it."

"But if you have guaranteed privacy, data analysis can be a lot more powerful. People will actually be willing to share more." Another notable part of this system is that computational power needed is less than 100 times that of the unencrypted calculation. They hope to reduce this to around just ten times the processing power.