Elite research travel grant to Mark Simkin

Congratulations to Mark Simkin

On March 1, PhD student Mark Simkin revices the elite research travel grant from the Ministry of Higher Education and Science. The prestigious grant of 200.000 will be used for Mark's stay abroad at IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Centre i New York, later this year.

Learn more about Mark and hos research below.

Area of research Cryptography

Title of your project Privacy-Preserving Computation on the Internet

What is your ph.d. project about? Large amounts of personal data are stored and shared online. Communication via messengers and email, online banking, user-profiling, electronic voting, and data sharing, are just a few of numerous applications that contain or make use of sensitive personal data.

In many cases, the websites or applications that provide these services learn significantly more personal information about their users than they should. For example, email providers learn the contents of all emails that a user stores on their server. A user could encrypt all emails that are stored online, but this would prevent him from performing basic tasks like searching for a specific keyword in his emails. As it stands usability and privacy are opposing goals, which are difficult to achieve simultaneously.

The goal of my PhD project is to develop an efficient general-purpose framework for computing on encrypted data. This work falls under the umbrella of a research area known as secure multiparty computation, which is a powerful tool that enables one or several parties to compute arbitrary functions on their joint inputs, while maintaining strong security and privacy guarantees. For example, it enables a user to store his emails in an encrypted format on a server, while at the same time providing him with privacy-preserving methods for searching for keywords in his emails.

How did your interest for your research area arise? My first encounter with cryptography in general was, when I read Simon Singh’s book “The Code Book”. Since then, I have been interested in the inner workings of cryptography. Many fundamental results in cryptography are based on novel and beautiful ideas, which sparked my interest in becoming a cryptography researcher.

What are the main challenges in your project? The research challenges in my project are related to developing protocols that are secure and at the same time efficient. To develop a protocol that is secure in a real world setting, one has to first define a good mathematical abstraction of the given problem. The better the abstraction, the more likely it is that the resulting solution will be secure in a real world setting. Once a good formal abstraction of a given problem is found, one needs to develop a solution that is secure, yet at the same time is efficient enough to be useful in a real application.

What does the Elite Travel Grant mean for your future? And what will you use it for? The travel stipend will enable me to visit and learn from leading researchers in the field of cryptography. It will give me the chance to observe how well established researchers tackle cutting-edge research problems in my field. Using the stipend I plan to visit and work at the IBM Thomas J. Watson Resarch Centre in New York. This IBM research centre has produced novel and ground-breaking research results consistently for many years.

Tell us something more about the man behind the researcher? My name is Mark Simkin, I am born in St.Petersburg in Russia, and lived most of my life in Germany. I started my PhD in Aarhus under the supervision of Ivan Damgård and Claudio Orlandi a little over a year ago. I am generally curious in how things work. I like to travel and hike