Ph.D. Dissertation Defense

Context-dependent privacy and security management on mobile devices

Prajit Kumar Das

8:00-11:00am Tuesday, 22 August 2017, ITE325b, UMBC

There are ongoing security and privacy concerns regarding mobile platforms which are being used by a growing number of citizens. Security and privacy models typically used by mobile platforms use one-time permission acquisition mechanisms. However, modifying access rights after initial authorization in mobile systems is often too tedious and complicated for users. User studies show that a typical user does not understand permissions requested by applications or are too eager to use the applications to care to understand the permission implications. For example, the Brightest Flashlight application was reported to have logged precise locations and unique user identifiers, which have nothing to do with a flashlight application’s intended functionality, but more than 50 million users used a version of this application which would have forced them to allow this permission. Given the penetration of mobile devices into our lives, a fine-grained context-dependent security and privacy control approach needs to be created.

We have created Mithril as an end-to-end mobile access control framework that allows us to capture access control needs for specific users, by observing violations of known policies. The framework studies mobile application executables to better inform users of the risks associated with using certain applications. The policy capture process involves an iterative user feedback process that captures policy modifications required to mediate observed violations. Precision of policy is used to determine convergence of the policy capture process. Policy rules in the system are written using Semantic Web technologies and the Platys ontology to define a hierarchical notion of context. Policy rule antecedents are comprised of context elements derived using the Platys ontology employing a query engine, an inference mechanism and mobile sensors. We performed a user study that proves the feasibility of using our violation driven policy capture process to gather user-specific policy modifications.

We contribute to the static and dynamic study of mobile applications by defining “application behavior” as a possible way of understanding mobile applications and creating access control policies for them. Our user study also shows that unlike our behavior-based policy, a “deny by default” mechanism hampers usability of access control systems. We also show that inclusion of crowd-sourced policies leads to further reduction in user burden and need for engagement while capturing context-based access control policy. We enrich knowledge about mobile “application behavior” and expose this knowledge through the Mobipedia knowledge-base. We also extend context synthesis for semantic presence detection on mobile devices by combining Bluetooth, low energy beacons and Nearby Messaging services from Google.

Committee: Drs. Anupam Joshi (chair), Tim Finin (co-chair), Tim Oates, Nilanjan Banerjee, Arkady Zaslavsky, (CSIRO), Dipanjan Chakraborty (Shopperts)