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BBL: Wei Bai

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We have our very own Wei Bai from Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Maryland with a talk about – “Understanding User Tradeoffs for Search in Encrypted Communication” 


Time: 3/29 (Thursday) from 12:30pm – 1:30pm
Place: HCIL, Room 2105, Hornbake building – south wing
Lunch: Bring your own lunch.


End-to-end message encryption is the only way to achieve absolute message privacy. However, searching over end-to-end encrypted messages is complicated. Several popular instant messaging tools (e.g., WhatsApp, iMessage) circumvent this inconvenience by storing the search index locally on the devices. Another approach, called searchable encryption, allows users to search encrypted messages without storing the search index locally. These approaches have inherent tradeoffs between usability and security properties, yet little is known about how general users value these tradeoffs, especially in the context of email rather than instant messaging. In this paper, we systematize these tradeoffs in order to identify key feature differences. We use these differences as the basis for a choice-based conjoint analysis experiment focused on email (n=160), in which participants make a series of choices between email services with competing features. The results allow us to quantify the relative importance of each feature. We find that users indicate high relative importance for increasing privacy and minimizing local storage requirements. While privacy is more important overall, local storage is more important than adding additional marginal privacy after an initial improvement. These results suggest that local indexing, which provides more privacy, may often be appropriate for encrypted email, but that searchable encryption, which limits local storage, may also hold promise for some users.


Wei Bai is a PhD student in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Maryland, advised by Prof. Michelle L. Mazurek. His research interests include network security and privacy with an emphasis on human factors, and his dissertation is about user perceptions of and attitudes toward encrypted communication. He obtained his MS in electrical and computer engineering from the University of Maryland. Contact him at