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  1. Software applications that employ secure multi-party computation (MPC) can empower individuals and organizations to benefit from privacy-preserving data analyses when data sharing is encumbered by confidentiality concerns, legal constraints, or corporate policies. MPC is already being incorporated into software solutions in some domains; however, individual use cases do not fully convey the variety, extent, and complexity of the opportunities of MPC. This position paper articulates a role-based perspective that can provide some insight into how future research directions, infrastructure development and evaluation approaches, and deployment practices for MPC may evolve. Drawing on our own lessons from existing real-world deployments and the fundamental characteristics of MPC that make it a compelling technology, we propose a role-based conceptual framework for describing MPC deployment scenarios. Our framework acknowledges and leverages a novel assortment of roles that emerge from the fundamental ways in which MPC protocols support federation of functionalities and responsibilities. Defining these roles using the new opportunities for federation that MPC enables in turn can help identify and organize the capabilities, concerns, incentives, and trade-offs that affect the entities (software engineers, government regulators, corporate executives, end-users, and others) that participate in an MPC deployment scenario. This framework can not only guide themore »development of an ecosystem of modular and composable MPC tools, but can make explicit some of the opportunities that researchers and software engineers (and any organizations they form) have to differentiate and specialize the artifacts and services they choose to design, develop, and deploy. We demonstrate how this framework can be used to describe existing MPC deployment scenarios, how new opportunities in a scenario can be observed by disentangling roles inhabited by the involved parties, and how this can motivate the development of MPC libraries and software tools that specialize not by application domain but by role.« less
  2. Secure multi-party computation (MPC) allows multiple parties to jointly compute the output of a function while preserving the privacy of any individual party's inputs to that function. As MPC protocols transition from research prototypes to real-world applications, the usability of MPC-enabled applications is increasingly critical to their successful deployment and wide adoption. Our Web-MPC platform, designed with a focus on usability, has been deployed for privacy-preserving data aggregation initiatives with the City of Boston and the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. After building and deploying an initial version of this platform, we conducted a heuristic evaluation to identify additional usability improvements and implemented corresponding application enhancements. However, it is difficult to gauge the effectiveness of these changes within the context of real-world deployments using traditional web analytics tools without compromising the security guarantees of the platform. This work consists of two contributions that address this challenge: (1) the Web-MPC platform has been extended with the capability to collect web analytics using existing MPC protocols, and (2) this capability has been leveraged to conduct a usability study comparing the two version of Web-MPC (before and after the heuristic evaluation and associated improvements). While many efforts have focused on ways to enhancemore »the usability of privacy-preserving technologies, this study can serve as a model for using a privacy-preserving data-driven approach in evaluating or enhancing the usability of privacy-preserving websites and applications deployed in real-world scenarios. The data collected in this study yields insights about the interplay between usability and security that can help inform future implementations of applications that employ MPC.« less
  3. An essential component of initiatives that aim to address pervasive inequalities of any kind is the ability to collect empirical evidence of both the status quo baseline and of any improvement that can be attributed to prescribed and deployed interventions. Unfortunately, two substantial barriers can arise preventing the collection and analysis of such empirical evidence: (1) the sensitive nature of the data itself and (2) a lack of technical sophistication and infrastructure available to both an initiative’s beneficiaries and to those spearheading it. In the last few years, it has been shown that a cryptographic primitive called secure multi-party computation (MPC) can provide a natural technological resolution to this conundrum. MPC allows an otherwise disinterested third party to contribute its technical expertise and resources, to avoid incurring any additional liabilities itself, and (counterintuitively) to reduce the level of data exposure that existing parties must accept to achieve their data analysis goals. However, achieving these benefits requires the deliberate design of MPC tools and frameworks whose level of accessibility to non-technical users with limited infrastructure and expertise is state-of-the-art. We describe our own experiences designing, implementing, and deploying such usable web applications for secure data analysis within the context of twomore »real-world initiatives that focus on promoting economic equality.« less
  4. Secure multi-party computation (MPC) is a cryptographic primitive that enables several parties to compute jointly over their collective private data sets. MPC’s objective is to federate trust over several computing entities such that a large threshold (e.g., a majority) must collude before sensitive or private input data can be breached. Over the past decade, several general and special-purpose software frameworks have been developed that provide data contributors with control over deciding whom to trust to perform the calculation and (separately) to receive the output. However, one crucial component remains centralized within all existing MPC frameworks: the distribution of the MPC software application itself. For desktop applications, trust in the code must be determined once at download time. For web-based JavaScript applications subject to trust on every use, all data contributors across several invocations of MPC must maintain centralized trust in a single code delivery service. In this work, we design and implement a federated code delivery mechanism for web-based MPC such that data contributors only execute code that has been accredited by several trusted auditors (the contributor aborts if consensus is not reached). Our client-side Chrome browser extension is independent of any MPC scheme and has a trusted computing basemore »of fewer than 100 lines of code.« less