The Stack Archive

New wi-fi-based network keeps Facebook servers at bay

Wed 4 May 2016

A new secure communication application has been developed which allows users to communicate online with friends while bypassing social networking servers such as Facebook.

The application, DiscoverFriends, from a UCLA research team led by Joshua Joy, has been created in order to increase privacy and security levels for people using Online Social Networks (OSNs) such as Facebook.

OSNs have seen a notable increase in usage on mobile devices like tablets and smartphones. Facebook reported that in the first quarter of 2014, more than a billion users came from mobile devices. Mobile platforms for OSNs have grown in popularity because they include simple, immediate access and special features such as Location-Based Services (LBS). The LBS facet for example, allows convenience for users’ social activities, and can also easily find nearby friends based on their location.

But LBS has obvious privacy implications – the function enables the OSN to track individuals’ activities.

To overcome this issue, the DiscoverFriends application is a Wi-Fi based solution that aims to bypass OSN servers to allow users to communicate with their OSN friends. The application uses a Bloom filter-based approach with hybrid encryption and stronger security.

The recently released paper said that DiscoverFriends can set up communication between friends in the same local Wi-Fi. It is possible for OSN users to send multi-hop text messages and other data without having to go through the OSN server.

DiscoverFriends also gives users a mechanism to ‘check-in’ their location anonymously on an OSN. To enable this, a new cryptographic primitive, Function Secret Sharing (FSS) puts up a strong defence against traffic analysis attacks. Without this, an OSN can work out the user’s identity by examining the authenticated connection. If there are more than two users announcing their location, it will not be possible to deduce which user posted a specific check-in.

User ID information is blocked as a result of DiscoverFriends’ combination of multiple OSNs to effectively protect messages from being identified by a single OSN.

While DiscoverFriends heightens security and protects against OSN scrutiny, the paper added that further future developments are planned. These include stronger multi-hop routing protocol and routing implementation and a coding scheme that can deal with collisions for the FSS scheme. Other future work includes an efficient disruption mechanism for dealing with malformed requests and an extensive assessment of Function Secret Sharing.

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