Vanish: Increasing Data Privacy with Self-Destructing Data

Roxana Geambasu, Tadayoshi Kohno, Amit Levy, Henry M. Levy

Proceedings of the 18th USENIX Security Symposium, August, 2009


Today’s technical and legal landscape presents formidable challenges to personal data privacy. First, our increasing reliance on Web services causes personal data to be cached, copied, and archived by third parties, often without our knowledge or control. Second, the disclosure of private data has become commonplace due to carelessness, theft, or legal actions.

Our research seeks to protect the privacy of past, archived data – such as copies of emails maintained by an email provider – against accidental, malicious, and legal attacks. Specifically, we wish to ensure that all copies of certain data become unreadable after a userspecified time, without any specific action on the part of a user, and even if an attacker obtains both a cached copy of that data and the user’s cryptographic keys and passwords.

This paper presents Vanish, a system that meets this challenge through a novel integration of cryptographic techniques with global-scale, P2P, distributed hash tables (DHTs). We implemented a proof-of-concept Vanish prototype to use both the million-plus-node Vuze Bit- Torrent DHT and the restricted-membership OpenDHT. We evaluate experimentally and analytically the functionality, security, and performance properties of Vanish, demonstrating that it is practical to use and meets the privacy-preserving goals described above. We also describe two applications that we prototyped on Vanish: a Firefox plugin for Gmail and other Web sites and a Vanishing File application.



Columbia University Department of Computer Science