“The elusive nature of privacy” | Reflections from PerLS 2017

Credit Flickr user Luca Biada, CC:BY.

PerLS 2017 was the first international workshop on pervasive smart living spaces. Here’s a reflection by IOTAP PhD candidate Joseph Bugeja, whose main research interest is to identify and manage risks in smart environments.

By Joseph Bugeja

Pervasive technologies such as smart homes, smart office buildings and smart cities are changing the landscape of today’s living spaces. These technologies provide a way to tap into the daily routines of their users with the ultimate goal to improve our ways and quality of life and human experience. PerLS 2017 was the first international workshop on pervasive smart living spaces. It was organized as part of the IEEE International Conference on Pervasive Computing and Communication (PerCom) in Kona, Big Island of Hawaii, USA, on March 13–17. IEEE PerCom solicits research contributions in different areas pertinent to pervasive computing and communications.

In PerLS, there were 10 presentations and a panel discussion. The ideas that resonated with me most given my research interests were the papers “The Smart Object Description Language: Modeling Interaction Capabilities for Self-Reflection” [1], “Securing Vulnerable Home IoT Devices with an In-Hub Security Manager” [2], and the panel discussion “Privacy Challenges in Pervasive Living Spaces” [3].

Burmeister et al. [1] developed a language for the generation of usage instructions for interconnected devices. This provides technical writers, including developers and manufacturers of smart devices, a language to describe smart objects as well as their components and states in a structured way. This concept also allows end-users to have visibility of the functionality and teach them about the different interaction capabilities supported by devices. The research method adopted by the authors of this study involved an analysis of existing usage instructions of 20 market available Natural User Interfaces and 12 devices from the research context. I found both the obtained results and the research approach relevant to my Phd studies, especially given that a similar research approach might be followed for categorizing smart home data.

Simpson et al. [2] proposed the design of a centralized, hub-based security manager to intercept and protect vulnerable smart devices. The design seeks to focus on adversaries that are physically external to the smart home and that can view and modify network traffic to and from the home. The design principles put forward by the authors were evaluated using real vulnerabilities as disclosed in the Common Vulnerability and Exposure (CVE) notification from 2012–2016. Furthermore, as case study modules, the authors emulate devices by relying on Microsoft Research HomeOS. This research paper is particularly interesting as the research approach and the subject relates to the paper that we published in PerLS (“An Analysis of Malicious Threat Agents for the Smart Connected Home”). Moreover, the main author thesis topic is related to security in smart systems, a topic which we are looking into.

Bettini et al. [3] described the qualities of a pervasive living space and the elusive nature of privacy. In particular, the topic of privacy and how it varies across people, cultures, and legislations was a topic that the panel discussed. It was noted how difficult it is to safeguard privacy especially when big data and ubiquitous technologies are involved. Discussion pointers on location and data privacy, trust and security, multimodal sensory data collection and fusion, were raised by the panel and in light of some questions by the audience. The moderator, Dr. Mohan Kumar, also raised some key aspects in the beginning of the session, in particular regarding the challenges related to privacy vs accuracy, privacy vs trust, privacy vs cost, and privacy vs performance. Such topics are particular interesting areas to research for smart living applications, including smart connected home systems.

In conclusion, I really found the workshop relevant to my PhD research areas. I have gained an important and current angle on the state-of-the-art research and developmental work in the field of pervasive computing and its application to smart living spaces. Also, I made important contacts with researchers who are engaged in the field of smart home security, privacy, and with a broader interest in smart living. Especially, Anna Simpson, who is interested in the paper we published in PerLS 2017, and who may be using it for her future work given its relevance to her studies.

[1] D. Burmeister, F. Burmann, A. Schrader, “The Smart Object Description Language: Modeling Interaction Capabilities for Self-Reflection,” in The First International Workshop on Pervasive Smart Living Spaces 2017

[2] A. Simpson, F. Roesner, and T. Kohno, “Securing Vulnerable Home IoT Devices with an In-Hub Security Manager,” in The First International Workshop on Pervasive Smart Living Spaces 2017

[3] C. Bettini, P. Lukowicz, B. Lagesse, D. Reinhardt, “Privacy Challenges in Pervasive Living Spaces (Panel Discussion),” in The First International Workshop on Pervasive Smart Living Spaces 2017

» All accepted papers will be included in the PerCom proceedings and will be published shortly by the IEEE.

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