Another significant cybersecurity development this week: Microsoftannounced yesterday the availability on its Azure cloud platform of "confidential computing", the encryption of data while in use, "a protection that to date has been missing from public clouds", according to Microsoft CTO Mark Russinovich.
With this new security layer, data processed in the cloud is directly controlled by the customer and the customer only. Azure confidential computing adds an extra layer of cloud security for enterprise customers that not only protects the data from hackers, but can also secure the data from government data collection efforts.
The confidential computing service is meant to reassure customers that are considering moving data and applications to Microsoft's cloud that the switch will not open them up to hacks, spying and secret subpoenas.
Some companies have historically been wary of moving sensitive data to the cloud because of worries about their data being attacked when it is in use.
He said confidential computing protects against a variety of threats, including: malicious insiders with administrative privilege or direct access to hardware on which it is being processed, hackers and malware that exploit bugs in the operating system, application, or hypervisor, and third parties accessing it without consent.
Confidential computing ensures that when data is "in the clear", which is required for efficient processing, the data is protected inside a Trusted Execution Environment (TEE - also known as an enclave), an example of which is shown in the figure below.
Microsoft says this feature will make sure data stays away from prying eyes, including hackers, government warrants or even Microsoft itself. Data can be accessed only after authorization of customers. If the code is altered or tampered, the operations are denied and the environment disabled.
TEEs and enclaves are not new to Microsoft. The other TEE option is the hardware-based Intel Software Guard Extensions (SGX) solution, which leverages the CPU.
The Trusted Execution Environments will operate within Hyper-V instances separated from server access, or on an Intel SGX environment that shields the data from outside access at the hardware level. Using it, developers don't have to directly access the credentials stored in the Azure Key Vault or put credentials in code, Microsoft's announcement explained. We're working with Intel and other hardware and software partners to develop additional TEEs and will support them as they become available.
Intel and Microsoft will also probably take the new technology to the server computers that companies use in their own data centers, referred to as on-premise computing, Intel's Echevarria said. "With confidential computing, they can move the data to Azure knowing that it is safe not only at rest, but also in use".
This is however not the first time Microsoft has used TEEs/enclaves.
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