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Technique protects privacy when making online recommendations

Researchers devise an efficient protocol to keep a user’s private information secure when algorithms use it to recommend products, songs, or shows

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Written by Adam Zewe, MIT News Office

Algorithms recommend products while we shop online or suggest songs we might like as we listen to music on streaming apps.

These algorithms work by using personal information like our past purchases and browsing history to generate tailored recommendations. The sensitive nature of such data makes preserving privacy extremely important, but existing methods for solving this problem rely on heavy cryptographic tools requiring enormous amounts of computation and bandwidth.

MIT researchers may have a better solution. They developed a privacy-preserving protocol that is so efficient it can run on a smartphone over a very slow network. Their technique safeguards personal data while ensuring recommendation results are accurate.

In addition to user privacy, their protocol minimizes the unauthorized transfer of information from the database, known as leakage, even if a malicious agent tries to trick a database into revealing secret information.

The new protocol could be especially useful in situations where data leaks could violate user privacy laws, like when a health care provider uses a patient’s medical history to search a database for other patients who had similar symptoms or when a company serves targeted advertisements to users under European privacy regulations.

“This is a really hard problem. We relied on a whole string of cryptographic and algorithmic tricks to arrive at our protocol,” says Sacha Servan-Schreiber, a graduate student in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and lead author of the paper that presents this new protocol.

Servan-Schreiber wrote the paper with fellow CSAIL graduate student Simon Langowski and their advisor and senior author Srinivas Devadas, the Edwin Sibley Webster Professor of Electrical Engineering. The research will be presented at the IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy.

The data next door

The technique at the heart of algorithmic recommendation engines is known as a nearest neighbor search, which involves finding the data point in a database that is closest to a query point. Data points that are mapped nearby share similar attributes and are called neighbors.

These searches involve a server that is linked with an online database which contains concise representations of data point attributes. In the case of a music streaming service, those attributes, known as feature vectors, could be the genre or popularity of different songs.

To find a song recommendation, the client (user) sends a query to the server that contains a certain feature vector, like a genre of music the user likes or a compressed history of their listening habits. The server then provides the ID of a feature vector in the database that is closest to the client’s query, without revealing the actual vector. In the case of music streaming, that ID would likely be a song title. The client learns the recommended song title without learning the feature vector associated with it.

“The server has to be able to do this computation without seeing the numbers it is doing the computation on. It can’t actually see the features, but still needs to give you the closest thing in the database,” says Langowski.

To achieve this, the researchers created a protocol that relies on two separate servers that access the same database. Using two servers makes the process more efficient and enables the use of a cryptographic technique known as private information retrieval. This technique allows a client to query a database without revealing what it is searching for, Servan-Schreiber explains.

Overcoming security challenges

But while private information retrieval is secure on the client side, it doesn’t provide database privacy on its own. The database offers a set of candidate vectors — possible nearest neighbors — for the client, which are typically winnowed down later by the client using brute force. However, doing so can reveal a lot about the database to the client. The additional privacy challenge is to prevent the client from learning those extra vectors. 

The researchers employed a tuning technique that eliminates many of the extra vectors in the first place, and then used a different trick, which they call oblivious masking, to hide any additional data points except for the actual nearest neighbor. This efficiently preserves database privacy, so the client won’t learn anything about the feature vectors in the database.  

Once they designed this protocol, they tested it with a nonprivate implementation on four real-world datasets to determine how to tune the algorithm to maximize accuracy. Then, they used their protocol to conduct private nearest neighbor search queries on those datasets.

Their technique requires a few seconds of server processing time per query and less than 10 megabytes of communication between the client and servers, even with databases that contained more than 10 million items. By contrast, other secure methods can require gigabytes of communication or hours of computation time. With each query, their method achieved greater than 95 percent accuracy (meaning that nearly every time it found the actual approximate nearest neighbor to the query point). 

The techniques they used to enable database privacy will thwart a malicious client even if it sends false queries to try and trick the server into leaking information.

“A malicious client won’t learn much more information than an honest client following protocol. And it protects against malicious servers, too. If one deviates from protocol, you might not get the right result, but they will never learn what the client’s query was,” Langowski says.

In the future, the researchers plan to adjust the protocol so it can preserve privacy using only one server. This could enable it to be applied in more real-world situations, since it would not require the use of two noncolluding entities (which don’t share information with each other) to manage the database. 

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Edu News

NMIMS SBM Offers MBA (Part-Time) Program for Working Executives

The program focuses on providing a holistic education to enhance their employability

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Start your professional learning journey now with the best-in-class MBA (Part-Time) program with the most sought-after prestigious NMIMS, School of Business Management, featured in the top 100 global B-schools as per Financial Times MiM 2022 ranking. A highly respected business school in India with a legacy of 41 years and a prestigious faculty announces admissions open for their MBA (Part-Time) program at their Mumbai campus.

This program offers an opportunity for working executives to acquire a high-end compact management qualification through rigorous and qualitative in-class learning and practical exposure to industry expertise. The program focuses on providing a holistic education to enhance their employability, exposing working executives to contemporary trends and practices in management. It also provides excellent academic resources coupled with industry best practices to boost the managerial competence of executives.

NMIMS SBM MBA (Part-Time) is accredited by Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) for working executives who want to enhance their skills and advance their careers. NMIMS has world-class pedagogy to provide students with a comprehensive and engaging learning experience. NMIMS SBM has a team of experts with extensive experience in the business world. The program structure is upto 40% hybrid and 60% in the classroom, whereas Bloomberg Certification Program will help students use financial analysis tools more efficiently. 

“The program is specifically meant for executives who have spent quality time in the industry and have adequate exposure to managerial roles and responsibilities. The two-year MBA (Part-Time) program will offer an opportunity for participants to hone their managerial skills and enable them to contribute better to their decision-making. It has been designed to empower students with a well-planned schedule that allows for a balance between study and work,” said Dr. Prashant Mishra, Dean School of Business Management.

Dr. Pradeep Pai, Program Chairperson, MBA (Part-Time), School of Business Management, said, “NMIMS SBM is proud to offer this innovative program to working professionals who wish to take the next step in their careers. We believe that this program will be a preferred executive education program for working professionals seeking to upgrade their qualifications by acquiring a widely acclaimed MBA degree.”

The MBA (Part-Time) program goes beyond traditional education by providing learners value-added workshops and industry connections. Our curriculum is regularly updated to ensure students receive the most current knowledge. The program helps them gain a practical and theoretical understanding of the industry and creates a network of professionals for them as they progress.

Eligibility Criteria:

  • 50% in Graduation from a recognized University in any discipline. (Distance/Part time/Full time)
  • Minimum 3 years of work experience in an executive or supervisory capacity or self-employed after graduation & up to the date of written test/personal interview.
  • The work experience should be full-time experience and should NOT include internships, projects, training periods, trainee (management, engineering), etc.

Selection Process:

Written Test conducted for MBA (Part-Time) by NMIMS OR Candidates with GMAT score of 600 and above (GMAT score of last 5 years up to the closure of registrations will be considered) OR Candidates with a score of 200 and above in NMAT by GMAC examinations for 2020 admission AND Personal Interview

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eSecForte visited Northeast to strengthen Industry-Academia Interface for Achieving Effective Cybersecurity Prospects  

The team also visited the Indian Institute of Information Technology (IIIT), Manipur and interacted with students on the topic of Digital Forensics Challenges and career options

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In an effort to create a holistic ecosystem for cybersecurity in the country, the team from eSecForte led by Lt Col (Dr.) Santosh Khadsare  (Retd), VP Digital Forensics  & Incident Response  visited the National Institute of Electronics and Information Technology (NEILT), Kohima and held discussions with the director of the institute, L. Lanuwabang. The deliberations were focused on enlarging the gambit of cybersecurity especially digital forensics in the country and how eSecForte and NEILT can come together to contribute effectively in this regard. 

The team also visited the Indian Institute of Information Technology (IIIT), Manipur and interacted with students on the topic of Digital Forensics Challenges and career options. The discussion entailed how the use of digital forensics can prove instrumental in bringing the perpetrators of cybercrimes to the book. The various challenges related to the implementation of tools and methodologies of digital forensics were also part of the very constructive dialogue that was held between our team and enthusiastic students. 

The team lead had a very fruitful discussion with Dr Krishnan Bhaskar, Director, IIIT, Imphal and discussed how the Industry-Academia interface can do wonders in the field of cybersecurity and digital forensics. Specifically, detailed deliberations were held on devising exchange mechanisms and collaborative opportunities so that industry and academics can come together and lead to the creation of a self-sustainable ecosystem in the field of cybersecurity. Such development will ensure that cases related to the cybercrimes are dealt swiftly and lead to desired outcomes in terms of ensuring justice and well-being for all participating stakeholders. 

In the next leg of the reaching out journey, eSecForte’s team paid a visit to the National Forensic Science University (NFSU), Imphal campus and exchanged ideas with the campus coordinator on the latest trends and developments in the field of digital forensics. Apprising the importance of digital forensics to investigating officers, Lt Col (Dr.) Santosh Khadsare  (Retd), VP DFIR interacted with more than 400 trainees of the North Eastern Police Academy (NEPA), Shillong. These aspirants were thoroughly apprised of the importance of digital forensics and its utility in cracking cases related to cyberfrauds, cyberbullying, and other allied crimes associated with cyberspace. Case studies were discussed on how to handle digital evidence at the crime scenes with utmost care so that trace evidence won’t get lost in the logistical procedures and processes. The team showcased flagship products of eSecForte, Digital Forensic workstations and Faraday bags and informed them of the utility of these offerings built under India’s ambitious MAKE IN INDIA (MII) project. 

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Roots Collegium signs World Chess Champion Koneru Humpy as Brand Ambassador

Chairman, Sri. B.P.Padala announces Koneru Humpy as the Brand Ambassador of Roots Collegium educational institutions

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  • Humpy will be the face of its upcoming brand-related undertakings

Celebrating its 30 years’ legacy in imparting holistic education, Roots Collegium, a well-known educational institution in Hyderabad has today announced World Chess Champion Koneru Humpy as its Brand Ambassador. The appointment of Ms. Koneru Humpy is set to boost the brand image of Roots Collegium amplifying the institution’s philosophy in making its students achieve global exposure.

With the signing up of world chess champion Koneru Humpy as its Brand Ambassador, Roots Collegium will be exploring untapped areas of new-age innovations and add them to its list of achievements in the last 30 years. The fast expanding Roots Collegium, started in 1991, offers intermediate courses and almost all the streams of Bachelor’s degrees. Roots collegium is providing a wide range of courses like BBA, BBA (Business Analytics, B.Com (General, computers, sales), BA (Mass Communication, Psychology, and modern languages), and B.Sc. (Data Analysis). The college provides a variety of courses in design, film and media, visual arts, hotel management, culinary arts, and also many other certificate courses.

Reacting to her appointment, Koneru Humpy said “It is my pleasure to be the brand ambassador of Roots Collegium. I thank Sri. BP Padala gaaru for the honour. Roots Collegium as an institution has been offering the best educational facilities for its students for the last 30 years. Roots and I share a similar journey as we both have started our journey’s 30 years back. We both have same passion, integrity and ethics. That’s the special part about Roots Collegium, to which I instantly related to. And now we are ready to travel together.  As an ambassador, I look forward to contributing my committed services to the college and helping them grow in stature. I will take part in each and every event of the college and would like to share my thoughts and way-forward ideas in all its initiatives. Once again I want to thank all the staff and management for choosing me as a brand ambassador.”

Koneru Humpy is the FIDE Women’s rapid chess champion of 2019. She became the youngest woman to achieve the title of a Grandmaster back in 2002 at the age of 15. Her association will be an added feather to the cap of Roots Collegium’s growing achievements and a historic moment in its journey. 

The Chairman of Roots Collegium, Sri. B P Padala said “It’s our honour to have such a young and dynamic chess champion, Koneru Humpy as our brand ambassador. I wish the students of Roots Collegium will be motivated by such an inspiring champion who has come across a lot to be in this position today. I have no doubt that with her determination and strong belief, she become a world champion. I hope every student will inculcate the habit of not giving up and fighting for what they want, from her. She will be a role model for each and every student of our institution. I thank Koneru Humpy for accepting this position and people like her will definitely help bring change in society.”

The students of Roots Collegium from different places in Hyderabad city are excited and look forward to listen to the life-changing stories from Koneru Humpy in the future. 

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