Monthly Archives: March 2012

Risk and privacy in payment systems

I’ve just given a talk on Risk and privacy implications of consumer payment innovation (slides) at the Federal Reserve Bank’s payments conference. There are many more attendees this year; who’d have believed that payment systems would ever become sexy? Yet there’s a lot of innovation, and regulators are starting to wonder. Payment systems now contain many non-bank players, from insiders like First Data, FICO and Experian to service firms like PayPal and Google. I describe a number of competitive developments and argue that although fraud may increase, so will welfare, so there’s no reason to panic. For now, bank supervisors should work on collecting better fraud statistics, so that if there ever is a crisis the response can be well-informed.

Call for nominations for PET Award 2012

Nominations are invited for the 2012 PET Award by 31 March 2012.

The PET Award is presented annually to researchers who have made an outstanding contribution to the theory, design, implementation, or deployment of privacy enhancing technology. It is awarded at the annual Privacy Enhancing Technologies Symposium (PETS).

The PET Award carries a prize of 3000 USD thanks to the generous support of Microsoft. The crystal prize itself is offered by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario, Canada.

Any paper by any author written in the area of privacy enhancing technologies is eligible for nomination. However, the paper must have appeared in a refereed journal, conference, or workshop with proceedings published in the period from 1 June 2010 until 31 March 2012.

For eligibility requirements, refer to the award rules.

Anyone can nominate a paper by sending an email message containing the following to

  • Paper title
  • Author(s)
  • Author(s) contact information
  • Publication venue and full reference
  • Link to an available online version of the paper
  • A nomination statement of no more than 500 words.

All nominations must be submitted by 31 March 2012. The Award Committee will select one or two winners among the nominations received. Winners must be present at the 2012 PET Symposium in order to receive the Award. This requirement can be waived only at the discretion of the PET Advisory board.

More information about the PET award (including past winners) is see the award website.

Three Paper Thursday: BGP and its security

BGP security was a hot topic a few years ago, but is not as much studied these years. However, with technologies such as IPv6 and DNSSEC, BGP security is making a comeback, especially in the industry. We academics also have much to contribute in this space. In today’s Three Paper Thursday, I will highlight three recent work related to BGP security. It is also a good starting point to catch up in BGP security for those whose last memories of BGP security involve proposals such as S-BGP and SoBGP.

Job ad: post-doctoral researcher in security, operating systems, computer architecture

We are pleased to announce a job opening at the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory for a post-doctoral researcher working in the areas of security, operating systems, and computer architecture.

Research Associate in compiler-assisted instrumentation of operating system kernels
University of Cambridge – Faculty of Computer Science and Technology
Salary: £27,578-£35,938 pa

The funds for this post are available for up to two years:

We are seeking a Post-doctoral Research Associate to join the CTSRD and MRC2 projects, which are investigating fundamental revisions to CPU architecture, operating system (OS), programming language, and networking structures in support of computer security. The two projects are collaborations between the University of Cambridge and SRI International, and part of the DARPA CRASH and MRC research programmes on clean-slate computer system design.

This position will be an integral part of an international team of researchers spanning multiple institutions across academia and industry. The successful candidate will contribute to low-level aspects of system software: compilers, language run-times, and OS kernels. Responsibilities will include researching the application of novel dynamic instrumentation techniques to C-language operating systems and applications, including adaptation of the FreeBSD kernel and LLVM compiler suite, and evaluation of the resulting system.

Continue reading Job ad: post-doctoral researcher in security, operating systems, computer architecture

Three Paper Thursday: Binary analysis and Security

Mention the phrase “binary reverse engineering” or “binary analysis” and it often conjures up an image of software pirates or hacking groups. However, there are practical reasons for doing analysis on machine code. For instance, machines don’t run source code, they run machine code – how do we know it’s running correctly? Malware doesn’t usually come with source code (but they are known to leak on occasion); How do we protect our software from discovered vulnerabilities if we’re unable to re-compile the program from the original source code? For three paper Thursday this week, my contribution is to highlight three representative security applications of binary analysis, namely software testing, malware analysis and software protection. Continue reading Three Paper Thursday: Binary analysis and Security

Capsicum in CACM Research Highlights

The Research Highlights section of Communications of the ACM from March 2012 features two articles on Capsicum, collaborative research by the Cambridge security group and Google on capability-oriented security for contemporary operating systems. The first, Technical Perspective: The Benefits of Capability-Based Protection by Steven Gribble, considers the value of capability systems (such as Capsicum) in addressing current security problems. The second, A taste of Capsicum: practical capabilities for UNIX, is an abridged and updated version of our USENIX Security paper from 2010. These articles have since been picked up by Slashdot, Reddit, and others, and are linked to from the Capsicum publications, talks, and documentation page.

Privacy economics: evidence from the field

It has been argued that privacy is the new currency on the Web. Services offered for free are actually paid for using personal information, which is then turned into money (e.g., using targeted advertising). But what is the exchange rate for privacy? In the largest experiment ever and the first done in field, we shed new light on consumers’ willingness to pay for added privacy.

One in three Web shoppers pay half a euro extra for keeping their mobile phone number private. If privacy comes for free, more than 80% of consumers choose the company that collects less personal information, our study concludes.

Continue reading Privacy economics: evidence from the field

Three Paper Thursday: Financial Crypto 2012

I spent last week attending Financial Cryptography on Bonaire (a small Dutch island in the Caribbean), along with its attached workshops on Ethics in Computer Security Research and Usable Security.  As usual, the conference attracted a broad spectrum of papers mixing applied cryptography and miscellaneous financial security problems (including our own group’s work on PIN guessing statistics and Facebook’s photo-based backup authentication). All of the papers are now online. I’ll point to three papers which thought-provoking for me. I’m not going to claim these are the best or most important papers-the conference featured some very strong work on applying cryptography to practical problems like smart metering and oblivous printing, while perhaps the most newsworthy research was Wustrow et al.’s hacking of the Washington DC Internet voting prototype. I’ll just highlight why these papers were memorable for me. Continue reading Three Paper Thursday: Financial Crypto 2012

Some evidence on multi-word passphrases

Using a multi-word “passphrase” instead of a password has been suggested for decades as a way to thwart guessing attacks. The idea is now making a comeback, for example with the Fastwords proposal which identifies that mobile phones are optimised for entering dictionary words and not random character strings. Google’s recent password advice suggests condensing a sentence to form a password, while Komanduri et al.’s recent lab study suggests simply requiring longer passwords may be the best security policy. Even xkcd espouses multi-word passwords (albeit with randomly-chosen words). I’ve been advocating through my research though that authentication schemes can only be evaluated by studying large user-chosens distribution in the wild and not the theoretical space of choices. There’s no public data on how people choose passphrases, though Kuo et al.’s 2006 study for mnemonic-phrase passwords found many weak choices. In my recent paper (written with Ekaterina Shutova) presented at USEC last Friday (a workshop co-located with Financial Crypto), we study the problem using data crawled from the now-defunct Amazon PayPhrase system, introduced last year for US users only. Our goal wasn’t to evaluate the security of the scheme as deployed by Amazon, but learn more how people choose passphrases in general. While this is a relatively limited data source, our results suggest some caution on this approach. Continue reading Some evidence on multi-word passphrases

Three-paper Thursday: Android Malware Intelligence

Google’s mobile platform Android has been gaining increasingly popularity in the last few years. The policy of being open in its application marketplace is undoubtedly one of the keys that help Android grow so quickly. The low entry barriers as well as the non-vetting process help Android attract a lot of developers who have brought 450,000+ applications to the Android Market in 3 years. This success comes at a price though: Android is now the leading target of mobile malware also due to the less restrictive nature of the platform and the marketplace. The official Android Market and third-party marketplaces harbour benign applications as well as nefarious ones. On this week’s Three Paper Thursday, I’d like to introduce three papers that provide insights on intelligence of Android malware in the wild.

Continue reading Three-paper Thursday: Android Malware Intelligence