Categories: hideobfuscate

use of dummies

Summary

This pattern hides the actions taken by a user by adding fake actions that are indistinguishable from real.

Context

This pattern is applicable when it is not possible to avoid executing, delaying or obfuscating the content of an action.

Problem

When users interact with ICT systems their actions reveal a lot of information about themselves. An option would be for users to not perform such actions to protect their privacy. However, this is not possible since users cannot completely avoid executing these actions because they need to perform them to achieve a goal (e.g., search for a word on the Internet, send an email, search for a location).

Solution

Since the action must be accurately performed, an option to provide privacy is to simultaneously perform other actions in such a way that the adversary cannot distinguish real and fake (often called dummy) actions.

To hinder the adversary‚Äôs ability to infer the user behavior, as well as her preferences.

Consequences

This pattern entails the need for extra resources to perform the dummy actions, both at the side of the user that must repeat the action, and at the server side that must process several actions. Sometimes it may degrade the quality of service since the service provider cannot personalize services. It has been demonstrated that generating dummies that are perfectly indistinguishable from real actions (in terms of content, timing, size, etc...) is very difficult.

Examples

Alice wants to search for an abortion clinic on Google, but she does not want to reveal her intentions of abort to an adversary that may be eavesdropping this search (e.g., ISP provider, system administrator of her workplace, etc).

[Known Uses]

The use of this pattern has been proposed to protect privacy in location based services (the user reveals several locations to the service provider so that her real location is hidden), anonymous communications (the user sends fake messages to fake recipients to hide her profile), web searches (the user searches for fake terms to hide her real preferences).