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Papamanthou Receives Yahoo! Labs Award

A faculty researcher in the Maryland Cybersecurity Center (MC2) has received a $25,000 award from Yahoo! Labs to develop new algorithms for searchable encryption that will make it easier for users to navigate end-to-end secure email.

Charalampos “Babis” Papamanthou, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering with appointments in MC2 and UMIACS, received a Faculty Research and Engagement Award for his proposal, “Searchable Encryption For More Functional End-to-End Encrypted Email.” He will collaborate on this project with Payman Mohassel, a research scientist at Yahoo! Labs.

In light of people growing more concerned about the privacy of their email, several major Internet service providers, including Google and Yahoo, have been developing plug-in tools with the goal of giving users end-to-end encryption—meaning that only the sender and recipient can read an email’s content.

The problem, Papamanthou explains, is that the mail provider—through which all emails pass—is unable to perform any processing on the underlying data since it is encrypted. This, in particular, means that search functionality is no longer supported.

Since search is one of the most popular features of email, he adds, this is a pretty big limitation. Papamanthou’s research aims to make searching possible even as the emails remain encrypted.

“It is great that I am being given the chance to actively collaborate with Yahoo! researchers on such a timely problem,” Papamanthou says. “We had very productive research meetings when I visited Sunnyvale last spring and I am looking forward to future visits and research discussions on searchable encryption.”

He is currently developing a browser plug-in called PMAIL that will allow users to interact with a cloud-based email system that will store emails encrypted under keys managed by users—not by the cloud provider—while still allowing the cloud provider to perform common search queries in the users’ inbox. UMD undergraduates Daven Patel, a computer engineering major, and Josh Puncal and Mujtaba Elhag, both electrical and computer engineering majors, are working with Papamanthou on the project.

Click here to see a video overview of Papamanthou’s work on providing secure computations in the cloud.

MC2 is jointly supported by the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences and the A. James Clark School of Engineering. It is one of 16 centers and labs in UMIACS.

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October 30, 2015


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