News Column

Patent Issued for Privacy-Preserving Communication

July 8, 2014

By a News Reporter-Staff News Editor at Information Technology Newsweekly -- A patent by the inventors Chase, Melissa E. (Seattle, WA); Chow, Sze Ming (New York, NY); Kamara, Seny Fakaba (Kirkland, WA), filed on January 29, 2009, was published online on June 24, 2014, according to news reporting originating from Alexandria, Virginia, by VerticalNews correspondents.

Patent number 8762741 is assigned to Microsoft Corporation (Redmond, WA).

The following quote was obtained by the news editors from the background information supplied by the inventors: "People often desire to communicate securely and/or anonymously. In other words, individuals would like to ensure information is afforded solely to intended recipients and/or that communication participants are unidentifiable. Reasons for this desire are numerous and varied. For example, sensitive or confidential information can be transmitted between parties such as health and financial information or trade secrets. Alternatively, where information is publically disseminated, the source may want to remain anonymous to avoid consequences associated with the information. Further, anonymity with respect to the author/sender and reader/receiver can be important to avoid user profiling as a function of interactions, for instance. A number of conventional technologies can be employed to facilitate secure and/or anonymous communication including encryption and onion routing, among other things.

"Encryption conceals communication content in a manner such that the content is not easily understood by unauthorized individuals. More specifically, encryption is a process of transforming plaintext into ciphertext utilizing a cipher to make the plaintext unreadable by anyone except an individual with special knowledge or a key. Decryption refers to the reverse process in which encryption is removed thereby revealing plaintext, for instance, by applying a known key. By way of example, consider public-key encryption. Here, a public key associated with an intended recipient can be employed by a sender to encrypt a message. The recipient can then use a secret key that corresponds to the public key to decrypt the message.

"While communication content can be concealed utilizing encryption, alone this does not afford anonymity. Among other things, unencrypted communication headers might reveal a message destination. Furthermore, even if the header information is encrypted in accordance with an encryption scheme, anonymity is not guaranteed. For example, it is possible that one could determine the public key upon viewing the ciphertext thereby aiding identification of a communication recipient. Additionally, anonymity is difficult to achieve over a network since the routing infrastructure will know the identities of the sender and recipient.

"Onion routing facilitates secure and anonymous communication. The basic idea is to protect the privacy of senders and recipients as well as content itself against network traffic analysis and eavesdropping as content travels across a network. The vast majority of network traffic travels along public routes making it relatively easy to observe communications. With onion routing, content can be randomly routed to a destination and encrypted by a sender utilizing public keys associated with path routers or relays. This forms the metaphorical onion. As each router receives this structure, it peels away a layer utilizing its private key revealing routing instructions therefore. The last router removes the final layer and provides the content to the recipient.

"Onion routing provides several protections. First, an observer at any given point cannot know where a message came from or where it is going. Further yet, even one of the routers on the path will know nothing more than which routers immediately preceded and followed it on that path. In other words, a single router will not know about the original sender or final recipient. Still further, even if several of these routers pool their information, as long as there is one honest router on the path from sender to recipient, the other routers will be unable to learn anything.

"As most techniques, onion routing does not provide perfect protection. However, it does provide a high degree of unlinkablity such that an eavesdropper, either on a network or on one of the intermediate routers, cannot easily determine the identity of the sender and receiver. To send a message via onion routing, the sender is required to know the destination address of the recipient beforehand. This may not be public knowledge if the recipient wants to protect his/her anonymity in the network. If the recipient has a static address in the network, the recipient may tell the sender his/her address a priori in some off-band channel, for example, face-to-face communication. However, if the recipient changes addresses frequently keeping all potential senders updated with his current address may be difficult."

In addition to the background information obtained for this patent, VerticalNews journalists also obtained the inventors' summary information for this patent: "The following presents a simplified summary in order to provide a basic understanding of some aspects of the disclosed subject matter. This summary is not an extensive overview. It is not intended to identify key/critical elements or to delineate the scope of the claimed subject matter. Its sole purpose is to present some concepts in a simplified form as a prelude to the more detailed description that is presented later.

"Briefly described, the subject disclosure pertains to privacy-preserving communication. A communication system or component, such as a server, facilitates anonymous communication between two parties such that no other party can learn anything about the identity of sender or receiver. In particular, messages, content, or the like can be afforded to the communication component with anonymous tags that appear random but in fact specify a recipient. Such a tag can be generated as a function of shared secret information, among other things. The message or communicated content can also be encrypted utilizing this secret information. Encrypted and tagged content can then be securely stored and made available for retrieval by an intended recipient. To acquire this content a user computes and provides a tag to the communication component as well as various proofs that the tag is linked to the user or more specifically their anonymous identity or pseudonym. Once satisfied, the communication component can retrieve the content from a store utilizing the tag and afford it to the user. Subsequently, the user can remove encryption to reveal the communicated content. These and other aspects of the disclosure preserve privacy such that no one other than the communicating parties can know the source, the recipient, and the content of a communication. Furthermore, collusion can be resisted by not allowing sharing of download privilege without sharing of secret keys and/or other information.

"To the accomplishment of the foregoing and related ends, certain illustrative aspects of the claimed subject matter are described herein in connection with the following description and the annexed drawings. These aspects are indicative of various ways in which the subject matter may be practiced, all of which are intended to be within the scope of the claimed subject matter. Other advantages and novel features may become apparent from the following detailed description when considered in conjunction with the drawings."

URL and more information on this patent, see: Chase, Melissa E.; Chow, Sze Ming; Kamara, Seny Fakaba. Privacy-Preserving Communication. U.S. Patent Number 8762741, filed January 29, 2009, and published online on June 24, 2014. Patent URL:

Keywords for this news article include: Microsoft Corporation, Information Technology, Information and Data Encoding and Encryption.

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Source: Information Technology Newsweekly

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