As the data storage challenge continues to grow for insurers and everyone else, one of the obvious solutions is cloud technology. Storing data on remote servers rather than in-house is definitely a money-saver, but in insurance circles, the worry has been that having critical data reside outside the physical and virtual walls of the insurance enterprise is a risky situation.

Some good news has emerged on that front recently, however. According to ScienceDaily, research carried out at the Weizmann Institute and MIT may soon make it possible to work on data while it is still encrypted, giving an encrypted result that can be securely deciphered.

Our industry makes its living by performing computations on data in order to determine risks and set pricing, among other things, but until recently it was unclear how we could do such calculation on data stored in "the cloud" without letting anyone else see our information. “Attempting computation on sensitive data stored on shared servers leaves that data exposed in ways that traditional encryption techniques can't protect against,” the article notes. “The main problem is that to manipulate the data, it has to be decoded first.”

Now a new method, called fully homomorphic encryption (FHE), offers a realistic hope that such calculations can be performed securely in the cloud. While this process was extremely time-consuming and unwieldy when first discovered in 2009, newer developments have greatly increased speed, says ScienceDaily. “Optimized versions of the new system could be hundreds -- or even thousands -- of times faster than [the] original construction.”

This technology has now reached the point where computer engineers can begin to work on applications, says the article. These could easily include securing multiple forms of data normally manipulated by insurer systems. IT would even allow an authorized third party to work with encrypted insurer data, for example.

Obviously this technology has yet to see the light of day in applications, but look for that to happen over the next several years, as data storage and market pressures converge to push insurers inexorably to the cloud. Progress won’t be rapid, but it should be steady.

The commentary first appeared on the Insurance Networking News website.

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