Startup searching for ‘holy grail’ of encryption raises $73M

Zama is developing fully homomorphic encryption

French startup Zama has raised $73mn to commercialise the “holy grail” of cryptography: fully homomorphic encryption (FHE). Conceptually simple but practically complex, FHE enables computations on encrypted data without having to first decrypt it.

As a result, companies can provide services without seeing their customers’ information. The users, meanwhile, won’t notice any difference in the function.  To visualise the process, imagine the encrypted data as a locked box and the computations as paint. By painting over the box, you can also paint over the data inside. But the changes inside the box will remain hidden from prying eyes.

“This means sensitive information can remain secure and private even while being processed,” Rand Hindi, the CEO of Zama, told TNW.

“This is particularly revolutionary because it enables data privacy and security to coexist with utility, allowing for the analysis of confidential information without exposing the underlying data.”

Its elusive combination of security and accessibility has given FHE an almost mythical status. Hence the frequent holy grail comparisons.

Unlike the realy Holy Grail, however, FHE has already been discovered. The challenge now is commercialising the tech — which is where Zama comes in.

Zama’s quest for fully homomorphic encryption

Zama has already built a suite of open-source cryptographic libraries for FHE development. With the new funding, the startup plans to create a new class of fully homomorphic encryption applications.

According to Hindi, those applications could be almost endless. He envisions hospitals securely sharing patient data with medical researchers, banks encrypting transactions while still applying fraud analytics, and ballot systems counting votes without exposing them.

Cloud computing is another focus area. By using FHE, businesses could securely offload computing tasks to cloud environments without risking the privacy of their data. Search queries, for instance, would remain private, and encrypted data could be securely analysed.

FHE smart contracts are also under development. Homomorphic encryption can keep the terms and user data hidden without impeding the execution of the contracts.

These capabilities are already on the market. Zama’s most recent solution, fhEVM, is touted as the first confidential smart contract protocol for EVM blockchains.

For the other applications, there are still hurdles to overcome. Further work is required on regulatory compliance, efficiency improvements, and standardization of practices and protocols. But the holy grail of cryptography is already moving from mythology to reality.


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