Disguising access patterns to protect sensitive data in the cloud

phys.org | 4/26/2018 | Staff
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A team of computer scientists is working to defend against the next potential cyber risk – cloud storage. Wensheng Zhang, an associate professor of computer science at Iowa State University, says cloud users can encrypt sensitive data and information, but how they access the data may make it vulnerable.

Reports of access pattern-based attacks to cloud storage are rare, Zhang said. Phishing attacks – including a recent hack targeting professors and researchers – are the most common. A 2017 Google study identified as many as 12.4 million potential victims of phishing over the course of a year. However, if hackers can crack the data storage service, Zhang says it is only a matter of time before they try to exploit data access patterns.

Storage - Privacy - Risks - Kind - Threat

"Cloud storage is very convenient, but there are privacy risks," he said. "This kind of threat may be of greater concern to companies or agencies working with very sensitive data. For example, military agencies or some branches of the government."

Here is an example of the threat Zhang is working to prevent: An agency uploads a large dataset to its cloud account. A team analyzing a specific subset of the data regularly accesses the information, creating a pattern. Someone – a rogue employee or hacker who compromised the cloud service – could observe the pattern and make assumptions about the data.

Idea - Person - Cloud - Photos - Information

The idea may seem a little farfetched for the average person who uses the cloud to store photos or less sensitive information, but a user storing classified documents or research results in the cloud may feel differently. Zhang says if an agency makes a major...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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