The Battle for Control of Online Communications

Thursday, February 9, 2012 - 11:24am


Tuesday, February 21, 2012
10:00 – 11:00 AM
Computer Science Conference Room, Harold Frank Hall Rm. 1132

HOST: Giovanni Vigna

SPEAKER: Nick Feamster
College of Computing, Georgia Tech.

Title: The Battle for Control of Online Communications


The Internet offers users many opportunities for communicating and
exchanging ideas, but abuse, censorship, and the manipulation of
Internet traffic have put free and open communication at risk. Recent
estimates suggest that spam constitutes about 95% of all email traffic;
hundreds of thousands of online scam domains emerge every day; online
social networks may be used to spread propaganda; and more than 60
countries around the world censor Internet traffic. In this talk, I will
present approaches that we have developed to preserve free and open
communication on the Internet in the face of these threats. First, I
will describe the threat of message abuse (e.g., spam) and describe
methods we have developed for mitigating it. I will briefly discuss a
13-month study of the network-level behavior of spammers, and present
SNARE, a spam filtering system we developed that classifies email
messages based on the network-level traffic characteristics of the email
messages, rather than their contents. Next, I will turn to information
censorship, and describe Collage, a system that circumvents censorship
without arousing the suspicion of the censor. Finally, I will discuss
the various forms of information manipulation, including the spread of
propaganda in social networks and online “filter bubbles”. Although it
is difficult to prevent all forms of manipulation, our goal is to make
it more transparent to users. Towards this goal, I will describe my
broader research agenda and plans, which aim to improve Internet
transparency for aspects of Internet communication ranging from network
performance to social media to search results using the aggregation of
data from a wide variety of vantage points.


Nick Feamster is an associate professor in the College of Computing at
Georgia Tech. He received his Ph.D. in Computer science from MIT in
2005, and his S.B. and M.Eng. degrees in Electrical Engineering and
Computer Science from MIT in 2000 and 2001, respectively. His research
focuses on many aspects of computer networking and networked systems,
including the design, measurement, and analysis of network routing
protocols, network operations and security, and anonymous communication
systems. In December 2008, he received the Presidential Early Career
Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) for his contributions to
cybersecurity, notably spam filtering. His honors include the Technology
Review 35 “Top Young Innovators Under 35″ award, a Sloan Research
Fellowship, the NSF CAREER award, the IBM Faculty Fellowship, and award
papers at SIGCOMM 2006 (network-level behavior of spammers), the NSDI
2005 conference (fault detection in router configuration), Usenix
Security 2002 (circumventing web censorship using Infranet), and Usenix
Security 2001 (web cookie analysis).