PrivatelyExposed

A Blog dedicated to exploring privacy and technology

Part 1- An Introduction to my Dissertation Research

Posted by Wayne on February 11, 2012

Over the next few months I’ll finally be able to come out of hiding … not that I’ve been doing anything stealthy or that exciting even. I’ve been working on completing the hardest thing I’ve ever under taken in my life – a PhD. Four and a half calendar years and literally well over a thousand hours of time. For some I guess this is something they know they are going to do when they are young and full of energy and strong of heart and mind but for me this was my mid-life-crises.

Anyway – the coolest outcomes are: I definitely think a little different about things and the research that I got to do has some interesting and (I think) valuable results.

My initial goal was to do something epic, far reaching, and somehow alter the way we think about things. Did I accomplish that? Yes for me I did. I had some outstanding help from some great minds on my dissertation committee that helped me to explore a few things that will add to the science regarding privacy. I learned a lot from the body of knowledge already out there, from and about myself, and from those who supported me through the process.

The topic of study was “An Empirical Study of Privacy Risk Assessment Methodologies in Cloud Computing Environments” the initial abstract was published here and it has changed to look more like this. The abstract is not the only thing to change – the hypothesis changed, the research questions changed, and even the methodology changed. Fortunately what didn’t change was the data.

For this post I’m just going to share the research questions:

Q1.Do existing privacy assessment methods adequately assess privacy risk exposures of cloud computing for the enterprise?

Q2.By using the scoring system (outlined in the methodology section) are the new characteristics in cloud computing such as on-demand/self-service, broad network access, measured services, shared resources, and elasticity adequately evaluated or accommodated in existing privacy assessment methods?

The drivers for these questions were based on some basic phenomena that I had observed 4 years ago when I started looking for problems to explore. First and foremost I was (and still am) so excited about cloud computing. In my opinion Cloud is the most interesting technical thing to happen since the 80’s and Vax/VMS clusters ruled the computing world. The second thing that I realized was that privacy was also a domain that seemed to be important and was so incredibly polarizing with my peers in school and colleagues at work. The last thing that I noticed was that we seem to have this blind belief system and trust in assessment methods. Security folk call it checklist compliance – find a good checklist, check things off, and everything will be fine.

In the privacy domain risk assessments are very immature compared to the security world. Also what got me thinking about all this was – who says we’re asking the right questions? When we’re done why can’t we have a risk score like with our credit card score? I found some work done by Dr. George Yee (Estimating the Privacy Protection Capability of a Web Service Provider) that became the basis for my inquiry – how do we get assurances of privacy when we connect with web service providers?

More to come soon …

/wayne

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