Papamanthou Receives Google Research Award

Mon Aug 24, 2015

A faculty researcher in the Maryland Cybersecurity Center (MC2) has received approximately $50,000 from tech giant Google to pursue research to make it easier for users to navigate email encryption.

Charalampos “Babis” Papamanthou, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering with appointments in MC2 and UMIACS, received a Google Research Award for his proposal, “Pmail: Private Gmail with Search.”

In light of people becoming more concerned about the privacy of their email accounts, several major Internet service providers, including Gmail and Yahoo, have been developing plug-in tools with the goal of giving users end-to-end encryption—meaning that only the sender and recipient can read an email’s content.

The problem, Papamanthou explains, is that the cloud provider—which virtually all emails are sent through—cannot perform any processing on the underlying data since it is encrypted.

Since search is one of the most popular features of email, he adds, this is a pretty big limitation.

“I’m excited that Google will actively support my group’s effort for integrating advanced encryption technologies, such as searchable encryption, in Gmail—one of their most widely-used products,” Papamanthou says. “This funding will open up new opportunities for creating a safer place for email users, and I look forward to collaborating with Google researchers toward achieving this goal.”

Papamanthou is currently developing an additional plug-in called PMAIL. It is a cloud-based email system that will store emails encrypted under keys managed by users—not by the cloud provider—which will enable the cloud provider to perform common search queries in the users’ inbox.

He says an initial version of the plug-in is underway.

Click here to see a video overview of Papamanthou’s work in providing secure computations in the cloud.

MC2 is jointly supported by the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences and the A. James Clark School of Engineering. It is one of 16 centers and labs in UMIACS.