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Why Confidential Computing Is a Game Changer

Confidential Computing is a transformational technology that should be part of every enterprise cloud deployment. It's time to start unlocking the possibilities together.

Vinton G. Cerf

August 5, 2020

4 Min Read

When the Internet was first built, engineers were focused on getting it up and running, and functionality took precedence over protection. But when nefarious actors started to emerge, many pioneers across the industry came together to add more layers of defense. Encryption was used more widely, and the Internet became more secure. 

We've come a long way since those early days of the Internet when email showed up as an ARPANET project. It opened up new possibilities; mailing lists such as Sci-Fi Lovers and Yum Yum for restaurant reviews were created. Spam followed not very long after when someone from Digital Equipment Corporation sent out a job posting. Email is now ubiquitous, and organizations are now embracing technologies such as the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence. Cloud computing has entered the mainstream as organizations modernize their technology infrastructure, using the cloud to make fast changes, optimize costs, and get ready for the future. However, as cloud usage explodes, security can't be an afterthought. Security must be woven into the cloud computing fabric.

The Next Frontier of Data Protection
I believe that cloud computing will increasingly shift to private, encrypted services where users can be confident that their software and data are not being exposed to cloud providers or unauthorized actors inside their own organizations. This approach will foster innovation, allowing organizations to adopt the latest cloud technologies and alleviate concerns when it comes to data privacy and compliance.

When organizations, especially those in regulated industries, are ready to move workloads to the cloud, one of the biggest challenges is how to process sensitive data while still keeping it private. However, when data is being processed, there hasn't been an easy solution to keep it encrypted. Now there is. Confidential Computing is a breakthrough technology that encrypts data in use, while it is being processed.

Under the hood, Confidential Computing environments keep data encrypted in memory, and elsewhere outside the CPU. Data is decrypted within the CPU boundary by memory controllers using embedded hardware keys that a cloud provider does not have access to. It is a way for organizations to process data in the cloud while preserving confidentiality. A few weeks back, Google Cloud introduced our first Confidential Computing product called Confidential VMs. We are excited to offer this level of security and isolation while giving customers a simple, easy-to-use option that doesn't compromise on performance.

A United Approach
My role as a technologist is to try to be helpful, to provide clear explanations for how emerging technologies work, to responsibly inform policy developers and ensure their policies are implementable. I have learned that it's imperative that we work together to accelerate the adoption and acceptance of technology that moves us forward as a society.

Cloud providers, hardware manufacturers, and software vendors all need to work together to define standards to advance Confidential Computing. This is why Google was among the founding members of the Confidential Computing Consortium, operating under the umbrella of the Linux Foundation to facilitate adoption of Confidential Computing. We've joined forces with Intel, Microsoft, Red Hat, VMware, and others to shape technical and regulatory standards and support the development and adoption of open source tools. This is an encouraging start. It is only through sustained industry collaboration that the true potential of Confidential Computing will be realized.

Imagine being able to collaborate on genomic research in the cloud across geographies, across competitors, all while preserving privacy of confidential health records. Imagine being able to more quickly design or discover vaccines and to cure diseases as a result of secure collaboration. The possibilities are endless. Transformational technologies will truly solve problems that will make our lives better. I believe Confidential Computing is one of them. It will and should be a part of every enterprise cloud deployment. This is an ambitious goal that requires collaborative efforts to advance the technology. Now, it's time to start unlocking the possibilities together.

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About the Author(s)

Vinton G. Cerf

VP & Chief Internet Evangelist, Google

Vinton G. Cerf is vice president and chief Internet evangelist for Google. Cerf has held positions at MCI, the Corporation for National Research Initiatives, Stanford University, UCLA and IBM. Vint Cerf served as chairman of the board of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and was founding president of the Internet Society. He served on the US National Science Board from 2013-2018.

Widely known as one of the "Fathers of the Internet," Cerf received the U.S. National Medal of Technology in 1997, the Marconi Fellowship in 1998 and the ACM Alan M. Turing award in 2004. In November 2005, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in April 2008 the Japan Prize and in March 2013, the Queen Elizabeth II Prize for Engineering.

He is a Fellow of the IEEE, ACM, and AAAS, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the Computer History Museum and the National Academies of Engineering and Science.

Cerf holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics from Stanford University and Master of Science and Ph.D. degrees in Computer Science from UCLA and holds 29 honorary degrees from universities around the world.

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