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IBM To Patent Data Mask

Big Blue's MAGEN system uses optical character recognition to selectively scramble sensitive onscreen information such as healthcare or financial records.

IBM said Thursday that it has filed for patents on a new technology that can selectively hide data contained in files that hold sensitive information such as healthcare or financial records.

IBM's Masking Gateway for Enterprises (MAGEN) was developed in the company's labs in Haifa, Israel. Magen is the Hebrew word for "shield".

The system differs from other data masking products in that it does not make changes to the data file itself. Rather, it treats onscreen information as a picture and uses optical character recognition (OCR) technology to render parts of the image that are deemed sensitive unreadable.

"This results in an extremely fast and flexible system," IBM said. "If companies had to create and store modified copies, the process would be relatively expensive and slow," Big Blue added.

IBM said MAGEN is only at the proof-of-concept stage, but sees big potential for the technology in a business world that is becoming increasingly regulated.

For instance, the technology could be used to prevent workers at a claims processing center from viewing patient healthcare data while still being able to access the information needed to put through an insurance claim.

"MAGEN's screen masking approach eliminates the need to painstakingly tailor 'data masking' solutions to specific environments," said Haim Nelken, manager for Integration Technologies at IBM Haifa, in a statement. "The bottom line is faster performance, simpler database security, and reduced costs for protecting sensitive data," said Nelken.

IBM has filed for patents on two aspects of MAGEN. One for what the company calls "unique ways of manipulating images," and the other for a word scrambling system.

InformationWeek Analytics has published an independent analysis on data-loss prevention. Download the report here (registration required).

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