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Towards confidential computing

By Hamilton Ratshefola, Country General Manager – IBM Southern Africa

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In this past year, the consumer experience came to the forefront. As we faced various stages of lockdowns, we turned to banking online, seeing our doctors remotely, running our businesses using technology and socialising through a screen. Digital interactions became a part of our lives – ever-present and normalised as we navigated changes swept in by this pandemic.

As our digital interaction became seamless and permeated through every aspect of our lives, privacy continued to be top of mind. We carried out our lives predominantly online – making many of us more vulnerable to fraudsters. As we navigated living our lives digitally, data theft dominated 2020 as the most common attack in the Middle East and Africa. Across the region, data theft and leaks accounted for a significant 29% of attacks- underscoring the threat from information-stealing malware and phishing attacks in the region (2021 X-Force Threat Intelligence Index).

In turn, the role of Chief Information Officers and Chief Security Officers were at the forefront of our lives. With this need for heightened privacy and protection of our data – how could they ensure that our digital experiences and interactions remained secure? Technology leaders and CIOs turned to confidential computing. As businesses need to remain trusted stewards of other people’s data, CIOs looked to confidential computing to ensure confidence and trust in every digital interaction. With confidential computing, they enabled full authority and privacy in computing, code, and data, even when running in a cloud environment. Guided by standards and controls in a cloud environment – confidential computing provides greater assurance that the data is protected and visible only to its owner and no one else, not even the cloud vendor that is hosting the data – even during processing.

This is especially crucial for highly regulated industries like financial services, telecommunications, government and healthcare that are stewarding vital data. IBM Security X-Force discovered sophisticated attackers using targeted spear-phishing campaigns in attacks against manufacturing businesses and NGOs involved in the Covid-19 vaccine supply chain. Cyberattacks had evolved in response to the unprecedented changes brought on by the pandemic – and threats in 2020 targeted businesses such as hospitals, medical and pharmaceutical manufacturers and energy companies powering the Covid-19 supply chain (2021 X-Force Threat Intelligence Index).

Through confidential computing, CIOs leading organisations in highly regulated industries – whether large and small – were able to run in a cloud computing environment where there are others also running workloads, but still have full privacy and authority over those workloads doing, effectively running in an enclave. And IBM is leading the charge in bringing this technology to the enterprise. After over a decade of research, confidential computing moved quickly from projects in IBM Research to fully deployed offerings across the industry being adopted by global companies including Apple for its CareKit SDK, Daimler and others.

Globally we’ve built confidential computing into the IBM Hyper Protect Software Development Kit for iOS, which helps developers build healthcare applications that are HIPAA-ready running on Apple devices. For example, a developer can build an app that lets a consumer organise and manage their medical records from their phone, and the app will have confidential computing capabilities built-in, so that personal health data cannot be accessed by anyone except its owner. Regardless of industry, organisations across South Africa can benefit greatly from confidential computing. Banks which are setting out to become platform providers can collaborate securely with third parties on new cloud solution – combining sensitive data with other organisations’ propriety information to build new solutions while keeping their data and IP secure.

Confidential computing is also the solution for South African businesses that are setting out on their digital transformation journeys. Almost 60% of organisations across South Africa say the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated digital transformation and They indicate they are planning for Covid-19 recovery to include investment in technologies such as AI, IoT, blockchain, and cloud. With the growing adoption of hybrid cloud environments, confidential computing allows an organisation to choose the cloud computing services that best meet its technical and business requirements, without worrying about storing and processing customer data, proprietary technology and other sensitive assets.

Confidential computing will enable organisations to play a leading role in securing our digital interactions. Consumers will continue to entrust their data to many organisations as we navigate the challenges of this health pandemic – and all they ask is for the confidence that security and privacy are at the centre of every digital interaction.

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