Protecting Users from Adversarial Networks

Tuesday, August 08, 2023 - 11:30 am12:00 pm

Roya Ensafi, University of Michigan


The Internet has become a hostile place for users’ traffic. Network-based actors, including ISPs and governments, increasingly practice sophisticated forms of censorship, content injection, and traffic throttling, as well as surveillance and other privacy violations. My work attempts to expose these threats and develop technologies to better safeguard users. In this talk, I’ll cover a decade's summary of my approach to monitoring Internet censorship. I introduced an entirely new family of censorship measurement techniques, based on network side-channels, that can remotely detect censorship events occurring between distant pairs of network locations. To overcome the systems and data science challenges of operating these techniques and synthesizing their results into a holistic view of online censorship, my students and I created Censored Planet, a censorship observatory that continuously tests the reachability of thousands of popular or sensitive sites from over 100,000 vantage points in 221 countries. Next, I’ll discuss our efforts to understand and defend the consumer VPN ecosystem. Although millions of end-users rely on VPNs to protect their privacy and security, this multibillion-dollar industry includes numerous snakeoil products, is laxly regulated, and remains severely understudied. To address this, my lab created VPNalyzer, a project that aims to bring transparency and better security to consumer VPNs. Our work includes a cross-platform test suite that crowd-sources VPN security testing, coupled with large-scale user studies that aim to understand the needs and threat models of VPN users. During the talk, my aim is to delve into the valuable lessons learned from these works, which have played a crucial role in my academic success.

Roya Ensafi, University of Michigan

Roya Ensafi is an associate professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Michigan, where her research focuses on Internet security and privacy, with the goal of creating techniques and systems to better protect users online. She is particularly passionate about online censorship, geo-discrimination, surveillance, and related threats to Internet freedom. Prof. Ensafi is the founder of Censored Planet, a global censorship observatory. She has studied Russia’s throttling of Twitter, HTTPS interception in Kazakhstan, and China’s Great Cannon attack, among many other instances of network interference. She is a recipient of the Sloan Research Fellowship, NSF CAREER, Google Faculty Research Award, multiple IRTF Applied Networking Research Prizes, and the Consumer Reports Digital Lab fellowship.

@conference {292504,
author = {Roya Ensafi},
title = {Protecting Users from Adversarial Networks},
year = {2023},
address = {Anaheim, CA},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = aug