Ren, Yu, and Fletcher are protecting data in the cloud


August 24, 2013

Cloud computing, while convenient, raises privacy concerns. A bank of cloud servers could be running applications for 1,000 customers at once; unbeknownst to the hosting service, one of those applications might have no purpose other than spying on the other 999. Encryption could make cloud servers more secure. Only when the data is actually being processed would it be decrypted; the results of any computations would be re-encrypted before they’re sent off-chip. In the last 10 years or so, however, it’s become clear that even when a computer is handling encrypted data, its memory-access patterns — the frequency with which it stores and accesses data at different memory addresses — can betray a shocking amount of private information.

The “trivial way” of obscuring memory-access patterns, Professor Srini Devadas explains, would be to request data from every address in the memory — whether a memory chip or a hard drive — and throw out everything except the data stored at the one address of interest. But that would be much too time-consuming to be practical. What Devadas and his collaborators — graduate students Ling Ren, Xiangyao Yu, and Christopher Fletcher, and research scientist Marten van Dijk — do instead is to arrange memory addresses in a data structure known as a “tree.” A family tree is a familiar example of a tree, in which each “node” (in this example, a person’s name) is attached to only one node above it (the node representing the person’s parents) but may connect to several nodes below it (the person’s children).

Read the rest of the article on MIT NewsPhoto by Christine Daniloff.

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