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Data in use

Data in use definition

Data in use refers to information that's being processed by a computer. Data in use is typically in a computer's memory and is currently being created, retrieved, updated, or deleted.

Data in use is vulnerable. It's processed in the system's memory in an unencrypted state. That means it's susceptible to memory-based attacks, side-channel attacks, and other sophisticated methods.

See also: data in motion, homomorphic encryption, zero trust

Data in use security:

Confidential computing. This approach involves processing data in a hardware-based Trusted Execution Environment (TEE). It's an isolated, secure area of the processor. This method protects the information from other processes, users, and even the operating system.

Homomorphic encryption. It allows the processing of encrypted data without needing to decrypt it first. The results also stay encrypted and can only be decrypted by authorized parties. However, this approach is still in its early stages due to performance challenges.

Zero Trust Architecture. In this model, every access request is treated like it comes from an untrusted network. This means continuous verification and least privilege access.

Data in use history:

  • Early Computing Era (1940s-1960s). Initially, computers were large and used mainly by governments and big organizations. Security focused on physical access, not much on data in use.
  • Computer Expansion (1970s-1980s). Businesses processed more data, but security centered mostly on protecting stored data and system integrity.
  • Internet and Networking (1990s). The focus shifted to securing data in transit (like email and online transactions). Data in use also started getting attention.
  • Cloud computing and big data (2000s-2010s). This era highlighted the importance of securing data in use, especially in shared and cloud environments.
  • Confidential computing (2010s-Present). Recent years marked the influence of data protection regulations like GDPR, which mandate security for data in all states, including in use.