Securing The Online World

When you go online to pay a bill or buy an airline ticket your transaction is subject to inevitable tradeoffs between privacy and utility, says Parv Venkitasubramaniam.

While you expect your data to be protected, you also want the speediest possible transmission of data and completion of our transaction. But Venkitasubramaniam, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, says you can’t have both to the extent that you wish.

Venkitasubramaniam studies network security in hopes of improving the anonymity of communicating parties and the paths along which data flow. His goal is to attain a quantitative understanding of the tradeoffs between utility and privacy and to write algorithms that let consumers know how much privacy they can expect according to the amount of utility they desire.

Venkitasubramaniam is particularly interested in protecting network users against adversaries who gain valuable information about users or networks based on the timing of data transmission. Network security experts seek hacker-proof encryption codes, but adversaries can gain information about users or networks based solely on the time of dating transmission and the size of data packets. Encryption codes do not guard against timing-backed information retrieval.

“Previous quantitative models did not previously consider the complete window of information available to adversaries,” he says. “We were the first group to do this and the first to compute the fundamental relationship between privacy and utility.”

The National Science Foundation recently awarded Venkitasubramaniam a five-year CAREER award.

Learn more about Parv Venkitasubramaniam at: