ARC grant secures path to cyber privacy

03 October 2017

A Deakin team will draw on the latest in machine learning and data mining to improve Cloud security.

Education, business, government and finance sectors are set to gain a powerful new tool in the race against cybercrime, thanks to a team of Deakin University researchers.

Led by Alfred Deakin Professor Wanlei Zhou, Research Director of Deakin’s Centre for Cyber Security Research, the team has been awarded a $300,000 Linkage Grant from the Australian Research Council to automate privacy processes within cloud sharing communities across countries.

The researchers are Australia’s foremost experts in the field of “differential privacy,” a concept coined as a result of breakthrough research by Harvard Professor Cynthia Dwork in 2006.

Differential privacy overlaps the areas of statistics and data analytics, and uses techniques such as noise injection to keep the data of individual users completely private.

“This is cutting-edge technology,” explained Professor Zhou. “Differential privacy had its first large-scale practical application last year when Apple used it as a tool for phone input patterns to guarantee privacy. It has huge potential.”

Over the three-year project, the researchers will use machine learning and data mining to develop intelligent systems that can preserve individual privacy and take into account the privacy laws of individual countries – reducing costs, speeding up communication times and improving security.

The project is expected to result in a commercialised, provable, privacy-preserving, data sharing system for the cloud environment. It will initially benefit educational organisations, but will lay the foundations for data sharing in other cloud communities such as governments, banks, and other industries in Australia in the coming years.

The team will also include Deakin’s Dr Tianqing Zhu and Dr Gang Li, in partnership with one of Australia’s largest international education companies, Australian Education Management Group (AEMG). Supporting Australia’s third biggest export income earner (international education), AEMG has established cooperation between educational institutes and research centres in China, America, Europe and other countries worldwide. In China, it co-ordinates over 30 joint programs involving 12 Australian universities, including two Deakin joint programs – with Southwest University and Inner Mongolia Normal University.

Professor Zhou explained that the system will be adopted by AEMG’s cloud campus to exchange data in a restricted privacy manner between partner institutions. It will be commercialised as a “middleware” that can be plugged into existing cloud environments to maintain required privacy –even when the cloud crosses various jurisdictions with different privacy policies. It has a mathematically-provable privacy guarantee.

“Currently, there is no real automation available for privacy preservation,” Professor Zhou said.

“Different countries have their own privacy policies, and sensitive documents have to be manually checked before they leave a country, whether in Australia, China or anywhere else. This is time consuming and expensive.

“We will use a mathematical model to model the privacy laws of each country, which will be translated to ‘middleware’ (software) to check if the data is conforming to their privacy laws. We will develop a special method to achieve differential privacy over time, so adversaries can’t identify the information through their own data mining or machine learning tools.

“There are several traditional methods for ensuring privacy currently, but they have limitations. The use of encryption requiring passwords limits access to data, while the use of anonymity reduces the value of data. If the machines of adversaries have enough background information, they can identify individuals over time anyway. We will be able to prevent these issues with a much more sophisticated technique.”

Professor Zhou’s research interests include distributed systems, network security, bioinformatics, and e-learning. He has published more than 300 papers in refereed international journals and refereed international conference proceedings, including over 40 articles in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) journals in the past five years. He has also chaired many international conferences and is a Senior Member of the IEEE.

Read more:

"Differential Privacy and Applications." (Springer). Authors: Zhu, T; Li, G; Zhou, W; Yu, PS.

By Deakin Research

For all media enquiries please contact Deakin’s media team.

From top: Dr Tianqing Zhu, Professor Wanlei Zhou and Dr Gang Li.

Key Fact

From top: Dr Tianqing Zhu, Professor Wanlei Zhou and Dr Gang Li.

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