Archive for 2011

Auditing Information Leakage Talk

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

Yikan Chen presented his work on Auditing Information Leakage for Distance Metrics at the Third IEEE Conference on Privacy, Security, Risk and Trust today.

The slides are here: [PPTX] [PDF]

Talk to New Graduate Students

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

Here are the slides from my talk in cs6190, our seminar for new graduate students: [PPTX] [PDF]

Links from the talk:

Computer Criminals!

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

Computers will make the world of tomorrow a much safer place. They will do away with cash, so that you need no longer fear being attacked for your money. In addition, you need not worry that your home will be burgled or your car stolen. The computers in your home and car will guard them, allowing only yourself to enter or someone with your permission.

However, there is one kind of crime which may exist in the future — computer crime.

From World of Tomorrow — School, Work and Play, by Neil Ardley, 1981. (Scanned by David Gagnon. Hat tip: Ian Finder, University of Washington)


Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

Yuchen Zhou presented Protecting Private Web Content from Embedded Scripts at ESORICS in Belgium.

His talk slides are here: [PPTX] [PDF]

Secure Computation Kickoff

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

Today (August 30th) we are hosting the Kickoff Meeting for our new NSF-funded 5-year project, Practical Secure Two-Party Computation: Techniques, Tools, and Applications. This is a collaborative research project with abhi shelat and Aaron Mackey at UVa, Michael Hicks and Jonathan Katz at the University of Maryland, and Steven Myers at Indiana University. The goal of the project is to make privacy-preserving computation practical and accessible enough to be used routinely in applications such as personalized genetics, medical research, and privacy-preserving biometrics. For more, see

Rice Hall

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

The Computer Science department has moved into Rice Hall, our beautiful new building next to our former home in Olsson Hall.

Here are some pictures of the lab space for the Secure Research Group in Rice 442:

Meeting space in lab room (yes, the big curved white wall in the back is a whiteboard!)

Samee Zahur checking the lights

Plenty of room to grow!

But, it may be a bit of a wait for that bagel!

View from my office

Auditing Information Leakage for Distance Metrics

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

Yikan Chen and I are releasing a paper today on Auditing Information Leakage for Distance Metrics. The paper is a first step towards the goal of developing self-auditing secure computations that can determine when the output of a secure computation would leak too much information to be safe to release. Yikan will present the paper at the Third IEEE Conference on Privacy, Security, Risk and Trust in Boston, 9-11 October 2011.

Abstract. Many useful scenarios involve allowing untrusted users to run queries against secret data, so long as the results do not leak too much information. This problem has been studied widely for statistical queries, but not for queries with more direct semantics. In this paper, we consider the problem of auditing queries where the result is a distance metric between the query input and some secret data. We develop an efficient technique for estimating a lower bound on the entropy remaining after a series of query-responses that applies to a class of distance functions including Hamming distance. We also present a technique for ensuring that no individual bits of the secret sequence is leaked. In this paper, we formalize the information leakage problem, describe our design for a query auditor, and report on experiments showing the feasibility and effectiveness of our approach for sensitive sequences up to thousands of bits.

Full paper: [PDF, 10 pages]

Proxino Launched

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

Muzzammil Zaveri (BACS 2011), who worked in our group 2010-2011, and Ethan Fast (BACS 2011) have launched a new company, Proxino, that provides developers with a way of finding bugs in their site’s JavaScript code, as well as optimizing the loading and performance of scripts. Ethan and Muzzammil were funded by Y Combinator, starting in Summer 2011 (right after finishing their BACS degrees). Here’s an article about Proxino:
YC-Funded Proxino: Automated Error Reporting For Your Client-Side JavaScript, TechCrunch, 22 August 2011.

While he was a student here, Muzzammil worked on the GuardRails secure web application framework. Ethan worked in Westley Weimer‘s group on automated program repair.

USENIX Security Videos

Sunday, August 21st, 2011

Videos from all the talks at USENIX Security are now available on the conference site.

Here are the talks by UVa people:

I would also highly recommend Collin Jackson’s invited talk on Crossing the Chasm: Pitching Security Research to Mainstream Browser Vendors.

Forbes Interview with Karsten Nohl

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

Forbes has an excellent interview with Karsten Nohl: Codebreaker Karsten Nohl: Why Your Phone Is Insecure By Design, Andy Greenberg, Forbes, 12 August 2011.

Nohl’s findings aren’t only meant to demonstrate that Nohl is an uber-skilled codebreaker. He argues that his work shows, more importantly, that phone encryption is made to be broken. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, he says, GPRS included flaws that its designers must have known about.

[Added 21 August] The Economist’s Babbage Blog also has an interesting article summarizing Karsten’s work on mobile phone security over the past few years: Living on the EDGE, 18 August 2011.

Dr Nohl stresses that the 11 minutes was just a first pass at writing the cracking software, and that his group used only modest equipment with no financial motive. Criminals, by contrast, could benefit mightily from accelerating the crack, he says, one reason his group has refrained from expounding the technique in detail. It has, however, pointed to some specific holes which ought to be plugged. The group found some networks disabled all security features, relying on the highly misguided notion that traffic could not be easily intercepted except by mobile operators. Having no security from the phone to a base station on a mast makes it easier to filter and monitor traffic.

In 2009 Dr Nohl and colleagues pointed out significant weaknesses to the base GSM standard. Their new attack focuses on General Packet Radio Service, better known as GPRS—a modest improvement to GSM—introduced commercially in 2000. GPRS allows rates of tens of kilobits per second (Kbps), while a subsequent tweak known as EDGE allows downstream rates of 200 to 400 Kbps. GPRS and EDGE are commonly referred to as 2.5G, sitting in between 2G and 3G network speeds.