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Trusted distributed computing

Data is the key to any business and Intertrust’s suite of computing products looks to better manage and understand it, as CEO Talal Shamoon explains to New Electronics

Intertrust was founded over 30 years and was a pioneer in digital rights management (DRM). Originally a small R&D and licensing company it is now a global leader in the development of trusted computing products and services, licensing, and standardisation and is now working with some of the the world’s leading brands to help them better protect and use their data.

As early as 1990, Intertrust invented the concept of trust via the Internet and has been responsible for a number of core technologies that govern how we manage and secure Internet-based commercial transactions.

Today, it now manages all forms of digital transactions across a number of sectors from transport to financial services.

A key sector for the company is the energy sector, which is facing significant disruption because of the heavy focus on renewable sources of energy.

Utility companies’ business models for residential customers are becoming increasingly obsolete and they need to adapt to new distributed energy resources (DERs) like rooftop solar PV units, wind turbines, fuel cells and various other technologies.

Research suggests that 40% of consumers will use DERs by 2027 and that figure is expected to increase to 60% in 2050.

“With the advent of ‘big data’ and the Internet of Things (IoT), the smart city is becoming a reality and has resulted in the generation of vast amounts of data,” explains Intertrust CEO, Talal Shamoon.

“Energy companies and utilities now have a massive opportunity to access and use data to provision new services and improve their operations, as well as achieve better environmental outcomes.”

In 2015 Shamoon had a long and, at the time, unexpected meeting with the German energy giant RWE.

“We discussed how it could remain a major player in the face of massive industry transformation and our discussion turned into a prescient conversation, that lasted more than two hours.

“We talked about how connectivity was driving disruption across the energy sector and how these innovations would not just rescue, but fundamentally reshape the energy sector. While the meeting generated an incredible business partnership, it also led to the formation of a new business philosophy and strategy that we now call Data-Driven Energy.”

Whether energy companies change or not, change is coming, according to Shamoon. As data becomes the currency of tomorrow’s energy companies not only will they have to manage that data securely, they will also face increased competition from the likes of horizontally integrated multinationals like Amazon and Google, Shamoon argues.

“These organisations could end up buying wholesale electricity and giving it to consumers for free, in exchange for access to customers’ data and the gold mine that represents.

“Facebook soaks up vast amounts of data, not just about what you do on Facebook but through their apps on your Android phone. They are able to collect all sorts of information from where you go, what you listen to, to what kind of car you drive.”

As this market develops and more devices are connected so we need to ensure that the ‘connected device’ is what it says it is, explains Shamoon.

“We have a product offering that allows you to take any connected “thing” and make sure it is what is says it is. It’s a certification of authority that’s built for the IoT and it’s made for devices.”

Where public key infrastructure, with certificates - like X5o9 - have been designed for a world of millions of computers, they have not really been designed for a world of trillions of devices.

“The world we are moving into is one where the baby camera is going to wake up and say ‘Hey home gateway, I am a baby camera.’ That home gateway better know that it’s really a baby camera and not some creep watching your kid,” Shamoon suggests.

Intertrust’s role in this rapidly changing world is to help companies authenticate vast sensor networks and it has developed a certificate of authority that has generated billions of authenticated personalities for devices.

“The other product we offer is application shielding and it’s an algorithm that you run on an app – in a car, a glucose monitor, wherever – that changes the instructions in the app so it is very hard to reverse engineer.

“Hackers don’t usually attack encrypted data, that’s hard. They will go to the end point of the system which is a device that is sitting in a hostile environment and try to take it apart to steal the key. So we have devised a technique that makes that harder to accomplish.”

Intertrust has also developed Modulus, a DRM product that enables the user to create exchanges with distributed big data sets in the cloud.
“The problem that we are looking to solve here is as more and more companies start to store their information on premise or in huge cloud data bases – they want more control over it.

“The natural instinct is to lock the building up, but that’s no good because the whole point of cloud computing is to allow you to keep your data in a place that is scalable and shareable. But nobody wants to put their data out there in a way that it can be reached, so we have created a product that allows you to not only secure distributed data, but share it, trade it and sell it.”

Modulus works by effectively letting you pick a favourite cloud or data analytics provider. It acts as an additional layer in the cloud – any cloud - and provides you with the ability to run analytics in a secure way. It sits in the middle between one cloud base data installation and another.

“In effect we are laying data rails between different distributed cloud sets that will allow you to move and analyse data from point A to point B, and then audit it and make sure the right things happen.

“We live in a society where different people specialise in different things and we have networks of trusted relationships with different people,” says Shamoon.

“What we are looking to provide is essentially ‘secure plumbing’ and advocating, with our products, that horizontal specialists work together as a whole to provide the same values as a vertically integrated company like Google.”

Author
Neil Tyler

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