DARPA’s interest in homomorphic encryption

It looks like DARPA is interested in homomorphic encryption. Here's an extract from their recent call for proposals "PROgramming Computation on EncryptEd Data (PROCEED)."

PROgramming Computation on EncryptEd Data (PROCEED)

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is soliciting proposals for innovative research in programming computation on encrypted data. The proposed research should investigate innovative approaches that enable revolutionary advances in science, devices, or systems. Specifically excluded is research that results primarily in evolutionary improvements to the existing state of practice.


The goal of the PROCEED research effort is to develop practical methods for computation on encrypted data without decrypting the data and to develop modern programming languages to describe these computations. PROCEED is a comprehensive research effort with six primary research thrusts:

Mathematical Foundations of Fully Homomorphic Encryption – Discovery and development of new mathematical underpinnings for efficient computation on encrypted data is needed in a noninteractive setting. The solution might involve fully homomorphic encryption [Gentry09, Gentry10, Smart10] that allow noninteractive computation on encrypted data. This area is captured in RA‐10‐80, and interested proposers are referred to that solicitation.

Mathematical Foundations of Secure Multiparty Computation – Discovery and development of new mathematical underpinnings for efficient computation on encrypted data is needed in an interactive setting. Secure multiparty computation [Yao86, Bickson10] has a rich history of interactive computation on encrypted data, but requires further improvements to be truly practical.

Mathematical Foundations of Supporting Security Technologies – Computation on encrypted data preserves the confidentiality of the data being computed on, but does not inherently protect the integrity of the computation, nor provide strong protection of the program, among other potentially desirable security goals. Techniques to address these and other related security issues are sought in the PROCEED research effort.

Implementation/Measurement/Optimization – To make computation on encrypted data practical, highly optimized implementations, possibly including programmable hardware, will be needed. Experience shows there can be at least an order of magnitude difference in the performance of highly optimized cryptography implementations over less sophisticated implementations.

Algorithms – Practical computation on encrypted data will require libraries of data structures and algorithms that are optimized for efficiency in the encrypted domain. Most current approaches to computation on encrypted data work by turning a program (with a bounded maximum input size) into a circuit.1 An important goal for optimization is minimizing circuit depth, which is traditionally a goal of hardware designers, not programmers.

Programming Languages – More advanced languages are sought, with type systems that embed cryptographic knowledge, making programming computation on encrypted data no more difficult than conventional programming. Today’s languages for computation on encrypted data, such as the one in the FairPlay system [Malkhi04] are simple, imperative languages that have little, if any, type system support for cryptography.

I've heard lots of people call homomorphic encryption "interesting technology in search of an application," so I wonder exactly why DARPA is interested in this.

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