Researchers have created a new a new system that helps Internet users ensure their online data is secure.

The software-based system, called Mitigator, includes a plugin users can install in their browser that will give them a secure signal when they visit a website verified to process its data in compliance with the site’s privacy policy. 

“Privacy policies are really hard to read and understand,” said Miti Mazmudar, a PhD candidate in Waterloo’s David R. Cheriton School of Computer Science. “What we try to do is have a compliance system that takes a simplified model of the privacy policy and checks the code on the website’s end to see if it does what the privacy policy claims to do. 

“If a website requires you to enter your email address, Mitigator will notify you if the privacy policy stated that this wouldn’t be needed or if the privacy policy did not mention the requirement at all.”

Mitigator can work on any computer, but the companies that own the website servers must have machines with a trusted execution environment (TEE). TEE, a secure area of modern server-class processors, guarantees the protection of code and data loaded in it with respect to confidentiality and integrity.

“The big difference between Mitigator and prior systems that had similar goals is that Mitigator’s primary focus is on the signal it gives to the user,” said Ian Goldberg, a professor in Waterloo’s Faculty of Mathematics. “The important thing is not just that the company knows their software is running correctly; we want the user to get this assurance that the company’s software is running correctly and is processing their data properly and not just leaving it lying around on disk to be stolen. 

“Users of Mitigator will know whether their data is being properly protected, managed, and processed while the companies will benefit in that their customers are happier and more confident that nothing untoward is being done with their data.”

The study, Mitigator: Privacy policy compliance using trusted hardware, authored by Mazmudar and Goldberg, has been accepted for publication in the Proceedings of Privacy Enhancing Technologies.

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