Thursday, September 9, 2021

Secure Computing Enclaves Move Digital Medicine Forward

By providing a safe, secure environment, novel approaches enable health care innovators to share data without opening the door to snoopers and thieves.

John Halamka, M.D., president, Mayo Clinic Platform, and Paul Cerrato, senior research analyst and communications specialist, Mayo Clinic Platform, wrote this article.

We know that bringing together AI algorithms and data in ways that preserve privacy and intellectual property is one of the keys to delivering the next generation of clinical decision support. But meeting that challenge requires health care innovators to look to other innovators who themselves have created unique cybersecurity solutions. Among these “Think outside the box” solutions are products and services from vendors like TripleBlind, Verily, Beekeeper.AI/Microsoft, Terra, and Nvidia.

The concept of secure computing enclaves has been around for many years. Apple created its secure enclave, a subsystem built into its systems on a chip (SoC), which in turn is “an integrated circuit that incorporates multiple components into a single chip,” including an application processor, secure enclave, and other coprocessors. Apple explains that “The Secure Enclave is isolated from the main processor to provide an extra layer of security and is designed to keep sensitive user data secure even when the Application Processor kernel becomes compromised. It follows the same design principles as the SoC does—a boot ROM to establish a hardware root of trust, an AES [advanced encryption standard] engine for efficient and secure cryptographic operations, and protected memory. Although the Secure Enclave doesn’t include storage, it has a mechanism to store information securely on attached storage separate from the NAND flash storage that’s used by the Application Processor and operating system.” The secure enclave is embedded into the latest versions of its iPhone, iPad, Mac computers, Apple TV, Apple Watch, and Home Pod.

While this security measure provides users when an extra layer of protection, because it’s a hardware-based solution, its uses are limited. With that in mind, several vendors have created software-based enclaves that are more readily adapted by customers. At Mayo Clinic Platform, we are deploying TripleBlind’s services to facilitate sharing data with our many external partners. It allows Mayo Clinic to test its algorithms using another organization’s data without either party losing control of its assets. Similarly, we can test an algorithm from one of our academic or commercial partners with Mayo Clinic data, or test an outside organization’s data with another outside organization’s data.

How is this “magic” performed? Of course, it’s always about the math. TripleBlind allows the use of distributed data that is accessed but never moved or revealed; it always remains one-way encrypted with no decryption possible. TripleBlind’s novel cryptographic approaches can operate on any type of data (structured or unstructured images, text, voice, video), and perform any operation, including training of and inferring from AI and ML algorithms. An organization’s data remains fully encrypted throughout the transaction, which means that a third party never sees the raw data because it is stored behind the data owner organization’s firewall. In fact, there is no decryption key available, ever. When two health care organizations partner to share data, for instance, TripleBlind software de-identifies their data via one-way encryption; then, both partners access each other’s one-way encrypted data through an Application Programming Interface (API). That means each partner can use the other’s data for training an algorithm, for example, which in turn allows them to generate a more generalizable, less biased algorithm. During a recent conversation with Riddhiman Das, CEO for TripleBlind, he explained: “To build robust algorithms, you want to be able to access diverse training data so that your model is accurate and can generalize to many types of data. Historically, health care organizations have had to send their data to one another to accomplish this goal, which creates unacceptable risks. TripleBlind performs one-way encryption from both interacting organizations, and because there is no decryption possible, you cannot reconstruct the data. In addition, the data can only be used by an algorithm for the specific purpose spelled out in the business agreement.”

Developing innovative technological services is exciting work, with the potential to reshape the health care ecosystem worldwide. But along with the excitement is the challenge of keeping data safe and secure. Taking advantage of the many secure computing enclaves available on the market allows us to do just that.