Opaque, a new startup born out of Berkeley's RISELab, announced a $9.5 million seed round today to build a solution to access and work with sensitive data in the cloud in a secure way, even with multiple organizations involved. Intel Capital led today's investment with participation by Race Capital, The House Fund and FactoryHQ.
The company helps customers work with secure data in the cloud while making sure the data they are working on is not being exposed to cloud providers, other research participants or anyone else, says company president Raluca Ada Popa.
"What we do is we use this very exciting hardware mechanism called Enclave, which [operates] deep down in the processor -- it's a physical black box -- and only gets decrypted there. [...] So even if somebody has administrative privileges in the cloud, they can only see encrypted data," she explained.
Company co-founder Ion Stoica, who was a co-founder at Databricks, says the startup's solution helps resolve two conflicting trends. On one hand, businesses increasingly want to make use of data, but at the same time are seeing a growing trend toward privacy. Opaque is designed to resolve this by giving customers access to their data in a safe and fully encrypted way.
The company describes the solution as "a novel combination of two key technologies layered on top of state-of-the-art cloud security—secure hardware enclaves and cryptographic fortification." This enables customers to work with data -- for example to build machine learning models -- without exposing the data to others, yet while generating meaningful results.
Popa says this could be helpful for hospitals working together on cancer research, who want to find better treatment options without exposing a given hospital's patient data to other hospitals, or banks looking for money laundering without exposing customer data to other banks, as a couple of examples.
Investors were likely attracted to the pedigree of Popa, a computer security and applied crypto professor at UC Berkeley and Stoica, who is also a Berkeley professor and co-founded Databricks. Both helped found RISELabs at Berkeley where they developed the solution and spun it out as a company.
Mark Rostick, vice president and senior managing director at lead investor Intel Capital says his firm has been working with the founders since the startup's earliest days, recognizing the potential of this solution to help companies find complex solutions even when there are multiple organizations involved sharing sensitive data.
"Enterprises struggle to find value in data across silos due to confidentiality and other concerns. Confidential computing unlocks the full potential of data by allowing organizations to extract insights from sensitive data while also seamlessly moving data to the cloud without compromising security or privacy,” Rostick said in a statement
He added, "Opaque bridges the gap between data security and cloud scale and economics, thus enabling inter-organizational and intra-organizational collaboration."