Prabhakaran Named CAS Beckman Fellow
University of Illinois computer science professor Manoj Prabhakaran has been named a Center for Advanced Study Beckman Fellow for the academic year 2011-2012. The Center for Advanced Study is a multi-disciplinary unit charged with promoting the highest levels of scholarship and discourse. The Center also serves as the primary formal venue on campus for various types of scholarly interaction and creative activity across academic disciplines. CAS Beckman Fellows are recognized for the scholarly and creative contributions they had already made to the University and beyond.
Prabhakaran’s research focus is in cryptography, while he maintains broad interests in theoretical computer science.
Historically, cryptography focused on secure communication between trusting parties in a hostile environment. Advances on this question over the last 50 years—spurred by developments in information theory, algorithms, and complexity theory—have revolutionized electronic communication and electronic commerce. However, a lesser known branch of cryptography has dealt with a much more difficult problem of secure collaboration among distrusting parties. Secure multi-party computation (SMC) is a powerful concept that makes such collaboration possible without requiring any of the parties to share their private data with the other collaborators.
Prabhakaran’s research addresses security and efficiency questions of SMC. “It is important to develop SMC constructions that are efficient and flexible enough to be adapted for practice, yet enjoys theoretically sound security,” says Prabhakaran. “It is also important to understand the exact nature -- in particular, the limitations -- of security that can be achieved, even theoretically.”
His CAS Beckman project aims to bridge the gap between theory and practice by improving efficiency, while also developing a deeper understanding of security in SMC protocols.
Recently, along with his collaborators, he has developed an approach to take efficient, but low-security SMC protocols and modify them into high-security protocols without degrading the efficiency too much. This approach promises a way to build protocols not only more efficient, but also meeting other practical requirements, such as the ability to work with floating point arithmetic or being non-interactive.
With more and more applications moving to the internet, advances in SMC could be just as revolutionary as the advances in secure communications turned out to be in the early years of the internet. Examples of applications that can benefit from SMC include electronic voting, online auctions and stock transactions, privacy-preserving mining of medical records or social-network data, and distributed control of power grids and other essential infrastructure.