Just a few weeks after it announced plans to buy data management specialist Princeton Softech, IBM has introduced a service to mask sensitive customer data so it can safely be used for application testing and QA.

Despite the generation of test data being one of Princeton's core strengths, IBM said that the new service is instead based on its own WebSphere business intelligence technology, with the addition of consultancy from its Global Business Services group.

It said the consultants would study the client's needs, and then apply data masking algorithms to identify sensitive data and overlay it with other values - false ones, but ones which look realistic, so that applications using the data continue to work normally.

According to IBM, this means that a company can employ external software developers and others to work on a project without having to give them access to its confidential data.

"The new data masking solution can help companies take advantage of internal and external talent and resources available around the world, and enhance the security and privacy of critical data," said Martin Marut, a partner at IBM Global Business Services.

He added, "Our solution can help improve the development and testing processes by making available real data, yet doing this in a way that protects the integrity and privacy associated with highly sensitive information."

IBM said that it did not use Princeton's data management software because the purchase is not yet final and so far it only has an agreement to buy the company.

"After the acquisition is complete we will look at the Princeton Softech technology, I'm sure it will be complementary," a company spokesperson added.

The risk for customers is that once the deal goes through, they could find themselves having to migrate from one data masking set-up to another.