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Helping doctors work on genomics while reducing the risk of data theft

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November 16, 2015

As genome research gets passed around the scientific community, the world's woken up to the many security and privacy aspects that this can involve.

A new Microsoft research group has therefore published new ways to help doctors and scientists work on genomic data, all the while reducing the risk of data theft for the patients.

The team published an informal manual to help scientists and other researchers to use the Simple Encrypted Arithmetic Library (SEAL).

Homomorphic encryption is a technique in which software can operate on encrypted data without decrypting it. This would allow hospitals and labs all over the world to work on encrypted data hosted on untrusted clouds, receiving only the decrypted results for their analysis.

This simply means that the various teams could assist with secure and private outsourcing of personal health records and predictive services for disease risk.

The Microsoft research team of Nathan Dowlin, Ran Gilad-Bachrach, Kim Laine, Kristin Lauter, Michael Naehrig and John Wernsing describe their findings in the paper Manual for Using Homomorphic Encryption for Bioinformatics.

A wealth of personal genomic data is becoming available thanks to scientific advances in sequencing the human genome and gene assembly techniques.

Hospitals, research institutes, clinics, and companies handling human genomic material and other sensitive health data are all faced with the common issue of securely storing, and interacting, with large amounts of data.

New methods for encoding real data which lead to concrete improvements in both performance and storage requirements are being developed almost on a daily basis by dozens of medical scientists all over the world.

In the recent past, previous homomorphic encryption deployments were hand-tuned, inflexible, and done mostly in-house.

Research into the security threats against medical devices and separately the data it holds has been increasing a lot lately, and the trend is growing.

In September of this year, researchers Scott Erven and Mark Collao detailed how they found exposed online thousands of critical medical systems, including Magnetic Resonance Imaging machines and nuclear medicine devices.

The team found a very large unnamed U.S. healthcare organization exposing more than 68,000 medical systems. That organization has some 12,000 staff and 3,000 physicians.

Source: Microsoft.

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