Building a Silver Lining for the Cloud

May 26, 2015

The cloud has become a ubiquitous solution for work and for play. Businesses use it to store, access, and share data. The average person uses it for email, social networks, or to binge-watch House of Cards on Netflix. It is a centralized, virtually infinite repository for our electronic data. It also powers many online services. As useful as it is, Professor Yuzhe Tang focuses his research on a major concern in cloud computing — cybersecurity. “It is very difficult for cloud service providers to design a system that is completely trustworthy. Security is by far the biggest problem with cloud computing services,” says Tang. Whether you realize it or not, nearly everyone has personal information stored in the cloud. If you shop on Amazon, have a Gmail account, or post to Facebook, you’ve left a trail of personal data — and that’s just scratching the surface. No matter how active you are online, it is likely that some of your electronic information exists in the cloud. Unfortunately, there are many ways cloud service providers, including Google, Amazon, and Microsoft, have failed to protect user data. In addition to inevitable vulnerabilities to hackers, the companies themselves have been responsible for compromising their customers data — turning it over to the National Security Agency as in the Edward Snowden/PRISM scandal or selling it off for profit. Since these large companies own and control the cloud, we are beholden to their priorities and limitations. Tang proposes the addition of another layer of functionality to serve our needs on top of the cloud — in essence, a silver lining of security and improved performance. Tang is able to insert a process between the user and the cloud that is able to notify the user when an unauthorized party has accessed their data. His related research ensures that the cloud provides the user with the data they are seeking, at a granular level of detail, in a reasonable response time — no small feat given the copious amounts of data stored in the cloud. If adopted, this added functionality could be implemented by the cloud computing companies, external businesses, or users. Tang’s latest published research, Privacy-Preserving Multi-Keyword Search in Information Networks, and Deferred Lightweight Indexing for Log-Structured Key-Value Stores, provides in-depth descriptions of this work. It is his intention to contribute open-source solutions for the cloud that can be shared and even improved by others in his field. Additionally, he was recently awarded best paper at the 15th IEEE/ACM International Symposium on Cluster, Cloud and Grid Computing. Tang says, “It’s unquestionable that the era of big data and cloud computing has arrived. The cloud has changed our daily life, but there are some big problems that need to be addressed. My goal is to have an impact on securing the cloud while keeping it useful.”