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Detecting user actions from encrypted network traffic of mobile instant messaging applications

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Title: Detecting user actions from encrypted network traffic of mobile instant messaging applications
Author(s): Reunamo, Antti
Contributor: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Science, Tietojenkäsittelytieteen osasto
Discipline: Tietojenkäsittelytiede
Language: English
Acceptance year: 2020
Popularity of mobile instant messaging applications has flourished during the last ten years, and people are using them to exchange private and personal information on daily basis. These applications can be freely installed from online marketplaces, and average users may have several of them installed on their devices. The amount of information available from these messaging applications for a third-party eavesdropper via network traffic analysis has therefore grown significantly as well. Security features of these applications have also been developing over the years, and the communication between the applications and the background server infrastructure nowadays practically always employs encryption. Recently, more advanced end-to-end encryption methods have been developed to hide the content of the exchanged data even from the messaging service providers. Machine learning techniques have successfully been utilized in analyzing encrypted network traffic, and previous research has shown that this approach can effectively be used to detect mobile applications and the actions users are performing in those applications regardless of encryption. While the actual content of the messages and other transferred data cannot be accessed by the eavesdropper, these methods can still lead to serious privacy compromises. This thesis discusses the present state of machine learning-based identification of applications and user actions, how feasible it would be to actually perform such detection in a Wi-Fi network and what kind of privacy concerns would arise.
Keyword(s): Mobile instant messaging Privacy Network monitoring Encrypted network traffic analysis

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