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Pramod Viswanath – Spy vs Spy: Anonymous Messaging

Friday, May 8, 2015
4:30 pm


B205 EQuad

Sponsored by Electrical Engineering Seminar Series

Anonymous messaging platforms, such as Secret, Whisper and Yik Yak, have emerged as important social media for sharing one’s thoughts without the fear of being judged by friends, family, or the public. Further, such anonymous platforms are crucial in nations with authoritarian governments, where the right to free expression and, sometimes, the personal safety of the message author depends on anonymity. Current platforms offer only superficial anonymity — their centralized implementation makes them naturally vulnerable to authoritarian adversaries and/or economic incentives. In this talk, we study the problem of designing a distributed messaging protocol that spreads the message fast while keeping the identity of the source hidden from an adversary. We present an anonymous messaging protocol, which we call adaptive diffusion (and is related to the Chinese restaurant process), and show that it spreads fast and achieves nearly perfect obfuscation of the source for a wide range of adversaries. System issues in the implementation of the protocol are discussed.


Pramod Viswanath received the PhD degree in EECS from the University of California at Berkeley in 2000. He was a member of technical staff at Flarion Technologies until August 2001 before joining the ECE department at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He is a recipient of the Xerox Award for Faculty Research from the College of Engineering at UIUC (2010), the Eliahu Jury Award from the EECS department of UC Berkeley (2000), the Bernard Friedman Award from the Mathematics department of UC Berkeley (2000), and the NSF CAREER Award (2003). He was an associate editor of the IEEE Transactions on Information Theory for the period 2006-2008.