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Control of Sensitive Data in Systems with Novel Functionality

Report ID:
April 2012
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Advances in computer science have enabled analysis of data in ways
previously unthinkable. This has led to powerful new uses of data,
providing us with countless benefits across virtually all aspects of our
lives. For systems utilizing sensitive data, novel functionality has
sometimes provided novel routes for exposure of the underlying data.
This functionality may come with dangerous new assumptions or undermine
old ones, allowing unexpected inferences. As a result, release of
seemingly innocuous information may reveal sensitive data in surprising
new ways. This exposure can be detrimental, but it can often enable
desirable new capabilities as well. Regardless of whether these
exposures can help or harm us, we benefit from a deeper understanding of
when and how they can arise.

We explore this issue in the context of three systems. First, we
examine the impact on election systems of recent advances in the ability
to reidentify sheets of paper. These advances pose some threat to the
secret ballot, but they enable new measures for verifying election
integrity. Next, we develop techniques for and discuss the use of
markings on Scantron-style bubble forms as a biometric. These forms are
used in a variety of circumstances, and potential implications vary from
enabling cheating detection on standardized tests to undermining
anonymous surveys. Finally, we examine data leakage from collaborative
filtering recommender systems, finding that recommendations can be
inverted to infer individuals' underlying transactions. This
demonstrates that even subjecting data to massive-scale aggregation and
complex algorithms can be insufficient to protect sensitive details. By
explicitly considering the ways in which novel functionality exposes
sensitive data, we hope to reduce the risk for those whose intimate
details may be encoded in this data while encouraging responsible uses
of the data.

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