InfoSec Seminar: Knock Knock, Who's There? Membership Inference on Aggregate Location Data

Speaker: Apostolos Pyrgelis

Date/Time: 01-Mar-2018, 16:00 UTC

Venue: Main Quad Pop-Up 102



Aggregate location data is often used to support smart services and applications, e.g., generating live traffic maps or predicting visits to businesses. In this paper, we present the first study on the feasibility of membership inference attacks on aggregate location time-series. We introduce a game-based definition of the adversarial task, and cast it as a classification problem where machine learning can be used to distinguish whether or not a target user is part of the aggregates. We empirically evaluate the power of these attacks on both raw and differentially private aggregates using two mobility datasets. We find that membership inference is a serious privacy threat, and show how its effectiveness depends on the adversary's prior knowledge, the characteristics of the underlying location data, as well as the number of users and the timeframe on which aggregation is performed. Although differentially private mechanisms can indeed reduce the extent of the attacks, they also yield a significant loss in utility. Moreover, a strategic adversary mimicking the behavior of the defense mechanism can greatly limit the protection they provide. Overall, our work presents a novel methodology geared to evaluate membership inference on aggregate location data in real-world settings and can be used by providers to assess the quality of privacy protection before data release or by regulators to detect violations.


Apostolos Pyrgelis is PhD candidate in the Information Security Research Group at the Computer Science Department of University College London. His supervisors are Dr. Emiliano De Cristofaro and Dr. Gordon Ross. His research interests include applied cryptography, privacy-enhancing technologies, distributed systems as well as privacy-friendly analytics and machine learning applications to security. He received his BSc and MSc from the Computer Engineering and Informatics Department (CEID) at University of Patras, Greece.

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