InfoSocial is a student run conference at Northwestern University. Focusing on interdisciplinary graduate student research, it showcases current work being done all around the world. This year Security & Privacy in Informatics, Computing, & Engineering (SPICE) PhD student, Sanchari Das, attended the March 9th-10th conference and presented her work on The Onion Router (TOR) Browser.
Infosocial draws from a wide variety of work, but begins with a discussion topic. This year’s discussion topic centered on online communities:
How does the technology in your research extend or curtail the power of individuals and different groups of people? Our goal is to initiate conversations about ethical use of technology, civic technology for public and community use, and how technologies can enable a ‘better’ future. These are topics we believe are critical for those who work in this area to consider.
Sanchari Das specializes in social media research and human use of online technologies as well as personal interface systems and its impact on privacy and security. Her interest in InfoSocial stems from her interest in sharing the research results in order to help the wider community.
As a student who does interdisciplinary research it was important for me to present my work which examines how the technology is shaping the privacy and security of individuals, both technical experts and non-experts.
Presenting work done with co-author, Jayati Dev, Das did an extensive literature survey on the human perception of how well users comprehend Tor. Her presentation titled, Peeling the Onion, A Literature Survey on Tor - The Onion Router, showed that there is a stark difference between what online anonymity services such as that of Tor performs and how they are understood by both the technical experts and non-experts.
Das reported that privacy has been a major concern for several users since the advent of the internet. Everyone leaves their digital footprint if they have ever used a computer to surf the internet. Thus anonymity has become a necessary component of security today, which can be significantly achieved through the TOR bundle - the in-demand anonymity tool at present. The purpose of her literature survey was to unravel the usability and adaptability of TOR. Peeling down the onion layers, the study proposed to analyze whether true anonymity can be achieved in reality at all through TOR and how individuals perceive usability of such software. The study reaffirms that while the TOR bundle is both an effective tool and is also widely used, the perceptual experience of what TOR is, how it works, and that it does not magically protect the users is not perfectly comprehended by all users. A detailed review thus has been necessary here through which we plan not only to provide a better understanding and solutions to such problems, but also enables the users to make an informed decision about protecting their anonymity.
Das’ attendance was not only important for those who heard her research findings, but also for her as a researcher seeking insights from others in her field:
By attending such a student run conference, I not only got insights from professors such as keynote speaker Dr. Yarosh, but I also was encouraged by the current students and learned what they are doing in my field of interest. Writing tutorials and panels discussing their social media related research helped both to enhance our writing skills and improved our thinking in such interdisciplinary research topics. I enjoyed my first InfoSocial Conference experience.
Sanchari Das is a PhD Student in School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering at Indiana University Bloomington. A security track researcher, her work includes studies in usable security and privacy, user experience, social media research, and human-computer interaction. Her dual Masters degrees were received from Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India and Indiana University Bloomington.