New cross-industry consortium aims to accelerate confidential computing adoption

The Linux Foundation announced the intent to form the Confidential Computing Consortium, a community dedicated to defining and accelerating the adoption of confidential computing.

confidential computing adoption

Companies committed to this work include Alibaba, Arm, Baidu, Google Cloud, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Red Hat, Swisscom and Tencent.

What is confidential computing?

Across industries computing is moving to span multiple environments, from on premises to public cloud to edge. As companies move these workloads to different environments, they need protection controls for sensitive IP and workload data and are increasingly seeking greater assurances and more transparency of these controls.

Current approaches in cloud computing address data at rest and in transit but encrypting data in use is considered the third and possibly most challenging step to providing a fully encrypted lifecycle for sensitive data. Confidential computing will enable encrypted data to be processed in memory without exposing it to the rest of the system and reduce exposure for sensitive data and provide greater control and transparency for users.

“The earliest work on technologies that have the ability to transform an industry is often done in collaboration across the industry and with open source technologies,” said Jim Zemlin, executive director at The Linux Foundation. “The Confidential Computing Consortium is a leading indicator of what’s to come for security in computing and will help define and build open technologies to support this trust infrastructure for data in use.”

About the CCC

The Confidential Computing Consortium will bring together hardware vendors, cloud providers, developers, open source experts and academics to accelerate the confidential computing market; influence technical and regulatory standards; and build open source tools that provide the right environment for the development of trusted execution environments (TEEs), aka “enclaves”. The organization will also anchor industry outreach and education initiatives.

Participants plan to make several open source project contributions to the Confidential Computing Consortium, including:

  • Intel Software Guard Extensions (Intel SGX) Software Development Kit, designed to help application developers protect select code and data from disclosure or modification at the hardware layer using protected enclaves.
  • Microsoft Open Enclave SDK, an open source framework that allows developers to build Trusted Execution Environment (TEE) applications using a single enclaving abstraction. Developers can build applications once that run across multiple TEE architectures.
  • Red Hat Enarx, a project providing hardware independence for securing applications using TEEs.

The proposed structure for the Consortium includes a Governing Board, a Technical Advisory Council and separate technical oversight for each technical project. It is intended to host a variety of technical open source projects and open specifications to support confidential computing.

Developers are encouraged to participate in any open source project under the auspices of the Confidential Computing Consortium. The initial project at launch is the Open Enclave SDK, an SDK for building and signing hardware-protected trusted applications.

Confidential Computing Consortium will be funded through membership dues.

“To help users make the best choice for how to protect their workloads, they need to be met with a common language and understanding around confidential computing. As the open source community introduces new projects like Asylo and OpenEnclave SDK, and hardware vendors introduce new CPU features that change how we think about protecting programs, operating systems, and virtual machines, groups like the Confidential Computing Consortium will help companies and users understand its benefits and apply these new security capabilities to their needs,” noted Royal Hansen, vice president, Security, Google.

Mark Russinovich, chief technical officer, Microsoft, says that the Open Enclave SDK is already a popular tool for developers working on Trusted Execution Environments and that they hope this contribution to the Consortium can put the tools in even more developers’ hands and accelerate the development and adoption of applications that will improve trust and security across cloud and edge computing.”