Archive for 2009

NYT: When Everyone’s a Friend, Is Anything Private?

Saturday, March 7th, 2009

The New York Times has an article on social network privacy issues including the risks of third party applications: When Everyone’s a Friend, Is Anything Private?, New York Times, 7 March 2009 (by Randall Stross, Digital Domain column).

FACEBOOK has a chief privacy officer, but I doubt that the position will exist 10 years from now. That’s not because Facebook is hell-bent on stripping away privacy protections, but because the popularity of Facebook and other social networking sites has promoted the sharing of all things personal, dissolving the line that separates the private from the public.

Facebook’s default settings for new accounts protect users in some ways. For instance, the information in one’s profile is restricted to friends only; it is not accessible to friends of friends. But Facebook sets few restrictions by default on what third-party software can see in a network of friends. Members are not likely aware that unless they change the default privacy settings, an application installed by a friend can vacuum up and store many categories of a member’s personal information.

David E. Evans, an associate professor of computer science at the University of Virginia, says he wishes that Facebook would begin with more restrictions on the information that outside software developers can reach. For 15 of 19 information categories, Facebook sets a default setting of “share,” which means the information can be pulled out of Facebook and stored on servers outside its control. These 15 categories include activities, interests, photos and relationship status.

“Facebook could set defaults erring on the side of privacy instead of on the side of giving your information away,” he said.

Chris Kelly, Facebook’s chief privacy officer, defends its current settings, saying it “gives users extensive control over the applications they choose to interact with.” He also said Facebook had removed “thousands” of applications that members deemed untrustworthy.

In Professor Evans’s view, however, banishment of malevolent software comes too late: “Once the application has got the data, it’s got it, stored on someone else’s machine.”

The defaults turn out to be crucially important, because few users go to the trouble of adjusting the settings. Asked how many members ever change a privacy setting, Mr. Kelly said 20 percent.

Welcome Randolph Yu Yao!

Friday, February 27th, 2009

Randolph Yu Yao is joining our research group and the NSF RFID project. He’s a PhD student in Computer Engineering and will be working on something related to security and privacy for RFID systems that integrates cryptographic requirement with circuit-level designs.

His brief bio is below. Please join me in welcoming Randolph to the group!

I was born in a small city in southeast of China, and traveled from south to north during my high school, undergraduate, half-graduate study. I’m very happy to travel to the other half of the planet for my PhD study here in the end.

I was an EE major and love to deal with various aspects of embedded system. I’ve worked on the RoboCup, which forms a robot team to play “football”; the Mobile Satellite Communication Vehicle, which essentially control the attitude of antenna in dynamic circumstance; the Multi-Agent Cooperation via wireless communication etc. I didn’t realize before that the security issues of the embedded system are very challenge problems and becomes a bottleneck for their ubiquitous deployments, no matter for sensor networks or RFID. My ultimate goal is to enable these smart embedded systems acceptable by common people and put into daily service without concern about the security and reliability in the face of expanding network connection.

I also like sports such as swimming, traveling, exploration, basketball, hiking but no running which I think too boring. I enjoy the weather, the blue sky and fresh air here.

Grown Up Digital

Monday, February 9th, 2009

Don Tapscott’s new book, Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World, includes a brief description of Adrienne Felt’s work on social network privacy:

I’m still worried, though, and I’m not alone. According to Adrienne Felt, the coauthor of a 2007 study on social networking privacy, the new measures do not fix a key problem. You can decide which of your friends can see what on your profile, and you can stop the applications that your friends install from peering into your Facebook world. But, if you install an application — say, a photo editing application that lets you put Angelina Jolie’s hairdo on your best friend’s high school graduation picture — the maker of that application can see anything you put on your profile, like your dating interest, your summer plans, your political views, your photos, the works. The only way to stop the application developers from peering into your own Facebook world, Felt says, is to not put any applications on your personal profile. The vast majority of applications don’t need your private data to do their thing, she notes, and yet all of them have access to whatever you can see. [footnote that references our Privacy by Proxy paper]

I tried the book’s website, but get:

PHP has encountered an Access Violation at 7C81BD02

Perhaps the digital world is not fully grown up yet!

Technology Review: RFID’s Security Problem

Monday, February 9th, 2009

Technology Review has an article surveying the state of RFID security: RFID’s Security Problem, Technology Review, January/February 2009. It focuses on security and privacy issues related to RFID-enabled passports and driver’s licenses.

Excerpt: (bolding is mine)

Meanwhile, although experts say that some RFID technologies are quite secure, a University of Virginia security researcher’s analysis of the NXP Mifare Classic (see Hack, November/December 2008), an RFID chip used in fare cards for the public-­transit systems of ­Boston, London, and other cities, has shown that the security of smart cards can’t be taken for granted. “I think we are in the growing-pains phase,” says Johns Hopkins University computer science professor Avi Rubin, a security and privacy researcher. “This happens with a lot of technologies when they are first developed.”

As long as the remaining problems are ignored, though, it’s unlikely that the technology will become good enough to protect international borders without compromising the privacy of thousands or millions of people. Tadayoshi Kohno, for one, says that at this point, he is not convinced that RFID even offers security advantages over the old IDs. Technology used on this scale, and for purposes this important, should be clearly better than what it’s replacing: the U.S. experience with electronic voting systems shows what can happen when it’s not. If officials continue to advocate band-aids such as privacy sleeves rather than working to address the full extent of critics’ concerns, they will ultimately undermine the very technology that they hope to promote. While new ID technology seems likely to stay, it could become a fiasco if officials don’t pay attention to the work of hackers and security researchers. These people try to expose weaknesses before they can be exploited maliciously. It’s much less painful to swallow the news from them than to wait until a problem becomes embarrassing–or devastating.

Oakland Accepted Papers Posted

Friday, January 30th, 2009

The list of papers accepted to the 2009 IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy (Oakland Conference) is now posted here:

Twenty-six papers were accepted (from over 250 submissions).

The symposium will be held 17-20 May 2009 at the Claremont Resort in Oakland, CA. Hope to see you there!

Outstanding Faculty Award

Friday, January 30th, 2009

I’ve won an Outstanding Faculty Award from the State Council on Higher Education for Virginia.

UVa has a story: U.Va. Computer Scientist David Evans Wins Statewide Outstanding Faculty Award, 29 January 2009.

SCHEV Update Newsletter [PDF]

Richmond Times-Dispatch: 12 college teachers honored in Virginia, 27 January 2009.

[Added 3 February] The Cavalier Daily also has an article: Computer science professor receives award: State Council of Higher Education honors David Evans as recipient of this year’s Outstanding Faculty Award, Cavalier Daily, 3 February 2009.

[Added 9 March] Pictures from the Ceremony

Safety vs. Ideals?

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.

Our founding fathers faced with perils that we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake.

And so, to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and we are ready to lead once more.

President Barack Obama, Inaugural Address, 20 January 2009

Congratulations Dr. McCune!

Friday, January 16th, 2009

Jonathan McCune successfully defended his PhD thesis at Carnegie Mellon University last week. Jon (sorry, that’s “Dr. McCune”) was an undergraduate researcher in our group from 2001-2003, when he worked on agent-based software (for our RoboCup team) and adaptable sensor network security, before joining CMU’s PhD program in 2003. Dr. McCune’s recent research has focused on leveraging trusted hardware to build secure systems.

Congratulations Dr. McCune!

Barker’s gift … funds chip research?

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

The Daily Progress has an rather odd article juxtaposing our RFID research with a donation from Bob Barker (“Price is Right” host) to the law school to fund animal rights research: Barker’s gift to found animal law program; Science Foundation funds chip research. Perhaps we can combine projects to work on preserving pet privacy when implanting RFID tags in animals.

“Animal law is a growing area that is in much discussion,” Riley said. “It is a good way even for a student who has no interest in practicing animal law to enlarge their interest and to understand different ways the law works.”

A recent of example is Leona Helmsley’s will, Riley said.

When the hotelier, dubbed the “queen of mean,” died at 87 in August 2007, she spurred a legal debate by leaving behind a $12 million trust for the care of her dog.

Riley said a group of students at UVa have shown interest in animal law.

Elsewhere at UVa, the National Science Foundation’s grant will enable a team of engineers to create a more secure design for RFID chips, which are commonly found in remote car-locking systems and touchless debit cards.

These tiny chips, which send information over short distances using weak radio waves, are an increasingly popular way to monitor potentially sensitive information.

UVa researchers have been working to create a stronger encryption scheme that would keep information on RFID chips secure while keeping costs low.

[Added: 14 Jan] NetworkWorld has also picked up this story: NSF gives University of Virginia researchers a million good reasons to improve RFID security, privacy, by Alpha Doggs, NetworkWorld, 14 Jan 2009.

RFID Security and Privacy Cybertrust Grant

Monday, January 12th, 2009

UVa Today has an article about our (myself, abhi shelat, John Lach, and Ben Calhoun) recent NSF Cybertrust grant on RFID security and privacy: U.Va. Team Receives $1 Million Grant To Improve RFID Security, by Brevy Cannon, 9 January 2009.

Some excerpts:

To address the problematic use of custom cryptography, the U.Va. research team will develop an encryption scheme that is relatively strong — providing some measure of privacy and security — but that can be implemented at almost zero cost by repurposing the meager hardware resources already available on common RFID tags. Providing a solution that adds virtually no cost is crucial, because these RFIDs are made by the billions, at such low costs (5 cents or less apiece) that there is no margin for any added expense.

The team is breaking new ground by using a holistic design approach that considers how all the various levels of the design — the hardware, the encryption algorithm and how it is used — work together, mindful of how an attacker will target the single weakest link in the design.

The research team hopes their research will forestall that possibility, enabling RFIDs to be used in countless ingenious applications not yet dreamt of, without sacrificing privacy and security in a Faustian bargain.