IBM's Anonymous Move Into Privacy Software

IBM officials hope to carve out a new market in privacy software.
Posted December 20, 2005

Clint Boulton

Consumers who shop on the Internet willingly let their data be housed in repositories on the Web. The problem is, if a perpetrator knows where the information resides, he can access it fairly easily.

Imagine being able to exchange and store data while encrypting personal information from prying eyes.

Jeff Jonas loved this privacy concept so much, he decided to build anonymity software that safeguards people's identities during information exchanges.

IBM loved this technology so much, that it acquired Jonas' company SRD Software and its staff, a little known Las Vegas provider of software that "anonymizes" data so that it can be compared and analyzed without revealing private information.

IBM created the Entity Analytics division to support the anonymization product and released it last May, calling it DB2 Anonymous Resolution.

The software helps customers share records or documents with other organizations while protecting the identity of individuals involved in a data exchange.

The software, which IBM sells along with its DB2 Identity Resolution and DB2 Relationship Resolution precursors, is designed to thwart identity theft or accidental information disclosure. It employs irreversible digital signatures that keep data from being observed in its original form.

"If a backup tape falls off the truck, or someone hacks the system and someone can read the data about your customers, that's a bad day," said Jonas, now chief scientist of the IBM Entity Analytics division. "Our technique allows organizations to share data that has been anonymized first.

"What's unique about it is that normally I would encrypt and send it to you and you would decrypt it so you could use it. In this technique, I encrypt my data and you encrypt your data and all of the analysis is done while it's encrypted, never decrypted. You anonymize data into a form that is not mathematically reversible, kind of like shredding it on both sides."

The technology endured something of a buyer's evolution under the aegis of SRD, Jonas explained.

Casino gaming entities began using the technology to weed out scammers. Then the government got wind of it and started using it. Financial services firms were next.

If IBM can tap into the rest of the world's vertical markets, Jonas said the sky is the limit.

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