Using the Middle to Meddle with Mobile: Improving Transparency and Control for Mobile Network Traffic

February 4, 2016
2:50 pm - 4:00 pm
Halligan 102
Speaker: David Choffnes, Northeastern
Host: Fahad Dogar


Mobile devices increasingly are becoming the dominant way to interact with the Internet. In fact, many of you are probably reading this abstract from one.

Despite this enormous success, there are two core challenges that remain difficult to address: apps track users and leak their personal data, and the network performance and neutrality of mobile ISPs are generally unknown. Addressing these problems requires not only visibility into the traffic generated by devices, but also control over how, when, and where that traffic is sent and handled by third parties.

Instead of requiring changes to device OSes or carriers, we explore a simpler, more effective, strategy to address these problems: using network redirection to improve visibility and control for all network traffic from mobile devices. I will describe how we use natively supported OS features to redirect all of a device's Internet traffic over a secure channel to a trusted server outside the mobile ISP, and develop new systems running atop this server to characterize and control network traffic. I will present results from using this approach to detect how apps and trackers leak your personal information (and how you can control it), and how mobile carriers are shaping or modifying your Internet traffic (possibly in violation of new FCC rules).

Bio: David Choffnes is an assistant professor in the College of Computer and Information Science at Northeastern University. His research is primarily in the areas of distributed systems and networking, with a recent focus on mobile systems and privacy. Much of his work entails crowdsourcing measurement and performance evaluation of Internet systems by deploying software to users at the scale of tens or hundreds of thousands of users.

He earned his PhD from Northwestern in 2010 (not in the northwest), and completed a postdoc at the University of Washington (in the northwest) prior to joining Northeastern (both in the northeast and northwest). He sees no reason why this should at all be confusing. He is a co-author of three textbooks, and his research has been supported by the NSF, Google, M- Lab, the Data Transparency Lab, VidScale, and a Computing Innovations Fellowship award.