Pretty Good Phone Privacy

Authors: 

Paul Schmitt, Princeton University; Barath Raghavan, University of Southern California

Abstract: 

To receive service in today's cellular architecture, phones uniquely identify themselves to towers and thus to operators. This is now a cause of major privacy violations, as operators sell and leak identity and location data of hundreds of millions of mobile users.

In this paper, we take an end-to-end perspective on the cellular architecture and find key points of decoupling that enable us to protect user identity and location privacy with no changes to physical infrastructure, no added latency, and no requirement of direct cooperation from existing operators. In our architecture, we alter commonly attacked permanent identifiers that are widely used in today's mobile networks to values that no longer individually identify users, while maintaining connectivity and compatibility with existing infrastructure.

We describe Pretty Good Phone Privacy (PGPP) and demonstrate how our modified backend stack (NGC) works with real phones to provide ordinary yet privacy-preserving connectivity. We explore inherent privacy and efficiency tradeoffs in a simulation of a large metropolitan region. We show how PGPP maintains today's control overheads while significantly improving user identity and location privacy.

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BibTeX
@inproceedings {274549,
author = {Paul Schmitt and Barath Raghavan},
title = {Pretty Good Phone Privacy},
booktitle = {30th {USENIX} Security Symposium ({USENIX} Security 21)},
year = {2021},
isbn = {978-1-939133-24-3},
pages = {1737--1754},
url = {https://www.usenix.org/conference/usenixsecurity21/presentation/schmitt},
publisher = {{USENIX} Association},
month = aug,
}

Presentation Video