Elizabethtown College computer science, math alum develops anonymous data-sharing application
In recent months,
big-name retail and restaurant chains, including GameStop, Chipotle Mexican Grill and Kmart, have fallen victim to security breaches. Even government-related organizations have reported security issues. In most instances, the target was credit and debit card information from thousands upon thousands of consumers. With the “wired-in” generation opting for online card payment and file sharing, the personal and financial information of millions across the world is at risk.
Breaches and security concerns were on the mind of Till Krischer, a computer science and mathematics major, who created an anonymous data-sharing app before his graduation in May 2017.
Krischer “was always interested in infrastructure,” he said. In the world of information technologies, this includes wires, routers and other methods of digital transmission. He said he is particularly interested in distributed protocols such as BitTorrent, which can be used to transfer or stream files of varying sizes.
Protocols such as BitTorrent lack anonymity, which, when paired with a lack of security, can lead to breaches such as those recently experienced.
Wanting to work with data security, Krischer’s project for Honors in the Discipline at Elizabethtown helped him explore that space. The idea of doing a project, as opposed to research, was more appealing, he said.
“Projects are more important than grades when trying to find a job.”
Brainstorming sessions with Barry Wittman, who was his advisor and is associate professor of computer science at E-town, helped Krischer identify existing projects and develop a unique application.
Wittman works closely with students completing honors projects. “Projects always turn out better when the student is excited about it,” the professor said. “Usually, students want to do something really magnificent that couldn’t be done in a semester, so my job is often to narrow their idea down to something more manageable for our time constraints.”
For his Honors project, Krischer developed a prototype application to share information and data anonymously.
“I did this by making some changes to the traditional BitTorrent protocol and implementing them into my own version,” Krischer said. “To do this I also leveraged existing work from the Tor Project.”
The Tor Project is a website dedicated to providing online anonymity via free downloadable software. It primarily prevents traffic analysis, which examines a user’s internet history and online activity.
Krischer utilized aspects of both BitTorrent and Tor for his project. BitTorrent was quick and efficient for large file sizes, he said, but it lacked the privacy that the slower Tor offered. To compromise, he “changed the BitTorrent protocol to make use of hidden services instead of direct connections, to achieve anonymity.” This way, he said, he could create a fast and anonymous way to share files.
Krischer admitted his project was “much bigger in scope and more open-ended” than any previous project he had done. “I had to learn how to stay motivated and keep making incremental progress even when there is no end in sight,” the alum said.
Krischer said he plans to attend graduate school for computer science in the future. Though he has not decided upon a specific field of study, he said the Honors project taught him about network programming, distributed systems and BitTorrent protocol.
“I will always be interested in this space,” Krischer said of information technologies infrastructure. “While I don’t think that my app will get widely used, I believe it is only a matter of time before this type of technology becomes popular.”
Wittman shares Krischer sentiment. “With so much sensitive data flying over the Internet now, from banking data to healthcare records and more, it’s crucial to find ways to protect it.” Wittman said Krischer’s project is one of many “anonymous, decentralized tools for storing data, sending data and doing computation … with no single point of failure and complete anonymity.”
With new knowledge and support from his former E-town professor, Krischer is on track to make the Internet highway not only faster, but safer, as well.