Attribute-Based Encryption to Enhance Security at Australian Research Facility

The University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) has agreed to use NTT’s commercialized implementation of attribute-based encryption (ABE) to enhance the security and privacy of its research and innovation hub, called the UTS Vault. The director of the NTT Research Cryptography & Information Security (CIS) Lab introduced ABE in 2005. NTT has been working with UTS to serve their needs and support their applications for nearly two years.

In late 2021, UTS and NTT announced a partnership to promote smarter, safer and more secure cities in New South Wales state. One of NTT’s first steps was to build a proof-of-concept platform using ABE, which enables fine-grained access control and flexible policy settings based on the attributes of data users. Now, NTT DATA, Inc. has announced that, in collaboration with NTT Research, NTT Ltd. and NTT DATA Romania, it is moving forward with UTS to implement NTT’s commercialized technology in the UTS Vault, a purpose-built, secure facility that enables collaboration between UTS and private-sector tenants. The solution takes advantage of NTT’s proprietary cryptographic library and builds upon work conducted by the CIS Lab, such as the ABE hackathon, which took place a year ago. 

Held September 16-29, 2022, at the NTT Research offices in Sunnyvale, Calif., the ABE hackathon drew NTT teams from Belgium, India, Italy, Japan and Romania. The winning project from NTT Belgium, titled “Confidentiality in Images,” applied ABE to parts of images that contain private or sensitive data. Honorable mentions went to demos created by NTT DATA teams from Italy and Romania. “These demonstrations successfully advanced our goal of exploring the market potential and use cases for this innovative encryption technology,” Takashi Goto, head of the NTT Research Technology Promotion Team, said in a press release. “We look forward to encouraging its further development and growth.”

NTT Research has additional ties to ABE. CIS Lab Director Brent Waters co-authored the paper in 2005 that introduced ABE to the academic community. In 2020, the International Association for Cryptologic Research (IACR) recognized that paper with one of its Test of Time Awards. CIS Lab researchers remain engaged in ABE at the theoretical level. For the EuroCrypt 2021 conference, Dr. Waters and CIS Lab Scientists Pratish Datta and Ilan Komargodski co-authored a paper introducing a post-quantum scheme for ABE. While most of the work at NTT Research is geared toward pure science, some of the more well-developed research concepts it has explored, such as ABE, have market potential. To help productize those technologies, the organization hired Takashi Goto, a former director at NTT R&D, as head of its Technology Promotion Team.

Given that strategy, the UTS decision to deploy ABE stands as a milestone. It represents the transition of ABE from a leading topic in the research and academic community to a commercially available, scalable and enterprise-grade service offered by a major technology and service provider. The joint deployment team is targeting ABE for the UTS Vault private-sector tenants, but the character of UTS as an educational and research institute is significant. Highly knowledgeable facility members evaluated NTT’s approach to ABE, recommending that UTS become an early adopter based on its benefits. Other considerations, such as the need for an eventual migration path to a post-quantum solution, also weighed in.

Extending beyond this deployment, NTT DATA is standing up support infrastructure for ABE, as a managed service for enterprise clients globally. NTT Research is working closely with NTT business owners on ABE use cases involving zero-trust architecture (ZTA) and data privacy applications. In its partnership with UTS, NTT will continue to explore new use cases for ABE.