S. Raj Rajagopalan and collaborators at Honeywell are doing some security research on making better passwords. They are looking for some people to do a quick study on password design.

Along with a couple of Honeywell security researchers I am running a study on a rather familiar problem for most of us – creating memorable but secure passwords, i.e. how to generate passwords that are both suitably random and memorable. We have just launched a simple user study that asks volunteers to participate in an interactive session that lets them choose password candidates and see how well they remember them. Needless to say, these are not actual passwords used by any system, only strings that could be used as passwords.

No personal information is collected in the study and the system only stores the data that is actually provided by the user. To that end, you may choose to not provide any bit of information as you choose. The study takes only a couple of minutes to finish. You may run it multiple times if you wish (and you will likely get different use cases) but you will have to clear the cache on your browsers to get a fresh configuration.

We need at least 300 participants to get statistical significance, so we would appreciate it if you could participate in the study.

Please click here to go to the study: http://138.91.115.120:8080/syspwd

Thanks for your help. Any questions on the study may be directed to me.

Raj

I am traveling all over India at the moment so I’m not really able to write contentful posts. Here are even more links instead, sigh. Maybe later I’ll talk about log-Sobolev inequalities so I can be cool like Max.

Speaking of Max, he posted this hilarious bad lip reading version of Game of Thrones. Probably NSFW. I don’t even like the series but it’s pretty funny.

For those who are fans of Rejected, Don Hertzfeldt’s new film is available on Vimeo.

Those who were at Berkeley may remember seeing Ed Reed perform at the Cheeseboard. His album (which I helped fund via indiegogo, was named a Downbeat Editors’ Pick. It’s a great album.

In light of the Snowden leaks, some doubt has been cast on NIST’s crypto standards.

I’m super late to this, but I endorse Andrew’s endorsement of Sergio‘s interview with Robert Fano in the IT Newsletter. Here’s just the article, if you want that.

I’ll round out the end of my ISIT blogging with very brief takes on a few more papers. I took it pretty casually this year in terms of note taking, and while I attended many more talks, my notes for most of them consist of a title and a star next to the ones where I want to look at the paper more closely. That’s probably closer to how most people attend conferences, only they probably use the proceedings book. I actually ended up shredding the large book of abstracts to use as bedding for my vermicompost (I figured they might appreciate eating a little Turkish paper for a change of diet).

On Connectivity Thresholds in Superposition of Random Key Graphs on Random Geometric Graphs
B Santhana Krishnan (Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, India); Ayalvadi Ganesh (University of Bristol, United Kingdom); D. Manjunath (IIT Bombay, India)
This looked at a model where you have a random geometric graph (RGG) together with a uniformly chosen random subset S_i of \{ 1, 2, \ldots, P_n\} of size K_n at each node. The subset is the set of keys available at each node; two nodes can talk (securely) if they share a key in common. We keep the edge in the RGG is if the link can be secured. The question is whether the secure-link graph is connected. It turns out that the important scaling is in terms of r_n^2 K_n^2/P_n, where r_n is the connectivity radius of the RGG. This sort of makes sense, as the threshold is more or less \Theta(\log n/n), so the keys provide a kind of discount factor on effective radius needed for connectivity — if the number of keys per node is small then you need a larger radius to compensate.

Secure Network Coding for Distributed Secret Sharing with Low Communication Cost
Nihar B Shah (University of California at Berkeley, USA); K. v. Rashmi (University of California at Berkeley, USA); Kannan Ramchandran (University of California at Berkeley, USA)
This paper was on secret sharing — a dealer wants to distribute n shares of a secret such that any k of them can be used to reconstruct the secret but k-1 or fewer cannot. The idea here is that the dealer has to distribute these shares over the network, which means that if a receiver is not connected directly to the dealer then the share will be passed insecurely through another node. Existing approaches based on pairwise agreement protocols are communication intensive. The idea here is use ideas from network coding to share masked versions of shares so that intermediate nodes will not get valid shares from others. To do this the graph needs to satisfy a particular condition (k-propagating), which is defined in the paper. A neat take on the problem, and worth looking at if you’re interested in that sort of thing.

Conditional Equivalence of Random Systems and Indistinguishability Proofs
Ueli Maurer (ETH Zurich, Switzerland)
This was scheduled to be in the same session as my paper with Vinod, but was moved to an earlier session. Maurer’s “programme” as it were, is to think about security via three kinds of systems — real systems with real protocols and pseudorandomness, idealized systems with real protocols but real randomness, and perfect systems which just exist on paper. The first two are trivially indistinguishable from a computational perspective, and the goal is to show that the last two are information-theoretically indistinguishable. This conceptual framework is actually useful for me to separate out the CS and IT sides of the security design question. This paper tried to set up a framework in which there is a distinguisher D which tries to make queries to two systems and based on the answers has to decide if they are different or not. I think if you’re interested in sort of a systems-theoretic take on security you should take a look at this.

Tight Bounds for Universal Compression of Large Alphabets
Jayadev Acharya (University of California, San Diego, USA); Hirakendu Das (University of California San Diego, USA); Ashkan Jafarpour (UCSD, USA); Alon Orlitsky (University of California, San Diego, USA); Ananda Theertha Suresh (University of California, San Diego, USA)
The main contribution of this paper was to derive bounds on compression of patterns of sequences over unknown/large alphabets. The main result is that the worst case pattern redundancy for i.i.d. distributions is basically n^{1/3} where n is the blocklength. The main result is a new upper bound which uses some tricks like sampling a random number of points, where the number of samples is Poisson distributed, and a partition of the set of distributions induced by Poisson sampling.

To Surprise and Inform
Lav R. Varshney (IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center, USA)
Lav talked about communication over a channel where the goal is to communicate subject to a constraint on the Bayesian surprise s(x) = D( p(Y|x) \| P(Y) ) where X and Y are the input and output of the channel. He gets a single-letter expression for the capacity under a bound on the max surprise and gives an example for which the same distribuion maximizes mutual information and achieves the minimax surprise. The flip side is to ask for capacity when each output should be surprising (or “attention seeking”). He gets a single letter capacity here as well, but the structure of the solution seems to be a bit more complicated.

Krish Eswaran sent me a story about how a group at Virgina Tech described how LTE networks are susceptible to a certain kind of jamming strategy:

“An example strategy would be to target specific control or synchronization signals, in order to increase the geographic range of the jammer and better avoid detection,” the Wireless @ Virginia Tech research group said in a filing (PDF) submitted to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. “The availability of low-cost and easy to use software-defined radios makes this threat even more realistic.”

Color me unsurprised! For my PhD, I studied arbitrarily varying channels (AVCs), which are information-theoretic models for communication against adversarial interference. There are a couple of design insights one can distill from considering the AVC model:

  • Separating protocol and payload makes schemes susceptible to spoofing.
  • Lack of synchronization/coordination between sender and receiver can be a real problem in adversarial settings.

Here we have a case where the protocol is easy to spoof/disrupt, essentially because the control information in unprotected.

This separation between control information and payload is often suboptimal in other senses. See, for example, Tchamkerten, Chandar and Wornell.

At DIMACS, I got a notice about a workshop here that is coming up in November with a deadline ofr November 5 to register: the DIMACS Workshop on Information-Theoretic Network Security organized by Yingbin Liang and Prakash Narayan. Should be worth checking out — they have a nice slate of talks.

If you do come though, don’t stay at the Holiday Inn — go for The Heldrich or a Hyatt or something that is anywhere near walking distance to restaurants or something. I think I almost got run over going to Walgreens yesterday in this land of strip malls…

Via Erin (via Bruce Schneier’s blog), I found out about S. Parthasarathy‘s proposal to replace Alice and Bob with Sita and Rama. I have been known to use Alice and Bob on occasion (unlike some people I find the anthropomorphizing to be good, on the balance), but perhaps I should develop some cultural pride and make the switch to “a smarter alternative to these characters.” According to Parthasarathy, there is greater literary relevance to the scenario where Sita wants to send a message to Rama. The dramatic personae in this version are:

  • Sita : kidnapped maiden who wishes to send a message
  • Rama : brave prince who is to receive the message
  • Hanuman : the honest broker who relays the message
  • Ravana : the rogue-in-the-middle who acts as the adversary. To avoid confusing first letters, let’s rename him Badmash.

There are a number of other appealing allusions in this scenario.

I think it’s a fun exercise — can one come up with other settings? Perhaps based on Gilgamesh, or Star Wars. I’m sure at least one reader of this blog could come up with a Battlestar Galactica scenario. Adama to Baltar?

Also, I couldn’t help but point to this chestnut, the real story of Alice and Bob (h/t to my father).

Just a few brief notes on the plenaries. Prakash Narayan gave a nice talk on his work on secrecy generation and related problems. It was nice because it tied together a number of different models in one talk so that if you were someone who had only looked at wiretap problems you could see a more unified approach to these problems. It was a little technical for my pre-breakfast brain though. Ueli Maurer gave an overview of his new approach to cryptography — I had seen a version of this before, and it was full of pictures to illustrate the reductions and interfaces he was trying to create. I think if I had more of a background in formal CS-style cryptography I might have understood it a bit better. It feels like trying to build a different style of bridge between theory (formal reasoning about security) and practice.

Abbas El Gamal gave a rather personal Shannon Lecture, taking us through a number of stages in his research life, together with some perspectives on his new book with Young-Han Kim on network information theory. He ended by calling for the IT community to really go and tackle new problems and develop new tools and models to do that. One of the things that came across more sharply for me in this ISIT, partly due to the Cover memorial, is that information theory really is a research community. Of course, there are groups and cliques and politics and problems, but each ISIT is a real coming together that reinforces that sense of community. That’s valuable.

(Via Adam Smith) The deadline for submitting workshop papers to the 6th International Conference on Information Theoretic Security (ICITS) has been extended from today to Monday, April 23 (at 3pm Eastern) due to holidays. It’s in Montreal in August, so if you have some recent results that you would like to present in a workshop setting, please send them in. “Papers which broaden the applicability of information-theoretic techniques (say, to areas such as data privacy or anonymity) would also be very welcome.”

ICITS will have two tracks this year : a more CS-style conference with published proceedings, and a workshop (think ITA) track without proceedings where you can present older stuff.

Due to conflicts with other deadlines and conferences, the submission
deadline for the “conference” track of ICITS 2012 — the International
Conference on Information-Theoretic Security — has been moved back
ten days to Thursday, March 22, 2012.

The “conference” deadline is now Thursday, March 22 (3pm EDT /  19:00 GMT).
The “workshop” deadline is  Monday, April 9.

ICITS will have two tracks this year, one which will act as a regular
computer science-style conference (published proceedings, original
work only) and the other which will behave more like a workshop,
without proceedings, where presentations on previously published work
or work in progress are welcome.

For more information, see the conference website.

There are some more talks to blog about, probably, but I am getting lazy, and one of them I wanted to mention was Max’s, but he already blogged a lot of it. I still don’t get what the “Herbst argument” is, though.

Vinod Prabhakaran gave a talk about indirect decoding in the 3-receiver broadcast channel. In indirect decoding, there is a “semi-private” message that is not explicitly decoded by the third receiver. However, Vinod argued that this receiver can decoded it anyway, so the indirectness is not needed, somehow. At least, that’s how I understood the talk.

Lalitha Sankar talked about two different privacy problems that could arise in “smart grid” or power monitoring situations. The first is a model of system operators (ISOs) and how to view the sharing of load information — there was a model of K different “sources” or states being observed through a channel which looked like a AWGN faded interference channel, where the fading represents the relative influence of the source (or load on the network) on the receiver (or ISO). She didn’t quite have time to go into the second model, which was more at the level of individual homes, where short-time-scale monitoring of loading can reveal pretty much all the details of what’s going on in a house. The talk was a summary of some recent papers available on her website.

Negar Kiyavash talked about timing side channel attacks — an adversary can ping your router and from the delays in the round trip times can learn pretty much what websites you are surfing. Depending on the queueing policy, the adversary can learn more or less about you. Negar showed that first come first serve (FCFS) is terrible in this regard, and there is a bit of a tradeoff wherein policies with higher delay offer more privacy. This seemed reminiscent of the work Parv did on Chaum mixing…

Lav Varshney talked about security in RFID — the presence of an eavesdropper actually detunes the RFID circuit, so it may be possible for the encoder and decoder to detect if there is an eavesdropper. The main challenge is that nobody knows the transfer function, so it has to be estimated (using a periodogram energy detector). Lav proposed a protocol in which the transmitter sends a key and the receiver tries to detect if there is an eavesdropper; if not, then it sends the message.

Tsachy Weissman talked about how to estimate directed mutual information from data. He proposed a number of estimators of increasing complexity and showed that they were consistent. The basic idea was to leverage all of the results on universal probability estimation for finite alphabets. It’s unclear to me how to extend some of these results to the continuous setting, but this is an active area of research. I saw a talk recently by John Lafferty on forest density estimation, and this paper on estimating mutual information also seems relevant.

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