Collaborative Privacy for Web Applications

Abstract

Real-time, online-editing web apps provide free and convenient services for collaboratively editing, sharing and storing files. The benefits of these web applications do not come for free: not only do service providers have full access to the users’ files, but they also control access, transmission, and storage mechanisms for them. As a result, user data may be at risk of data mining, third-party interception, or even manipulation. To combat this, we propose a new system for helping to preserve the privacy of user data within collaborative environments. There are several distinct challenges in producing such a system, including developing an encryption mechanism that does not interfere with the back-end (and often proprietary) control mechanisms utilized by the service, and identifying transparent code hooks through which to obfuscate user data. Toward the first challenge, we develop a character-level encryption scheme that is more resilient to the types of attacks that plague classical substitution ciphers. For the second challenge, we design a browser extension that robustly demonstrates the feasibility of our approach, and show a concrete implementation for Google Chrome and the widely-used Google Docs platform. Our example tangibly demonstrates how several users with a shared key can collaboratively and transparently edit a Google Docs document without revealing the plaintext directly to Google.

Publication
In 2019 57th Annual Allerton Conference on Communication, Control, and Computing (Allerton)
Yihao Hu
Yihao Hu
PhD Student in Computer Science

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