Brown cryptography expert testifies on data security before U.S. House committee

Seny Kamara, an associate professor of computer science, told a U.S. House Financial Services Committee Task Force that there is more that companies could be doing to keep sensitive financial data safe.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — In Washington to offer expert testimony before a U.S. House of Representatives task force, a Brown University computer scientist described under-utilized cryptography solutions that could bolster consumer privacy.

Seny Kamara, an associate professor of computer science who studies data security and cryptography, was one among a panel of experts asked to testify for a Congressional hearing titled “Banking on Your Data: The Role of Big Data in Financial Services,” held on Thursday, Nov. 21.

The hearing was convened by the U.S. House Financial Services Committee Task Force on Financial Technology.

The rise of big data has enabled financial apps and services to give individuals a host of new ways to manage their finances, pay for goods and access alternative forms of credit. While these innovations come with benefits, there are also security concerns about the vast amounts of data these apps store, process and share. In his prepared testimony delivered to the task force, Kamara noted that there are technologies available that could enable companies and apps to process data while reducing the chances of a breach.

He also noted that while much of the sensitive data companies collect is stored on encrypted servers, processing that data has generally involved decrypting it. That can potentially leave the data exposed, but Kamara explained that it doesn’t need to be this way.  

“Over the last 30 years, cryptography researchers in academia and in industry labs have developed a wide array of cryptographic techniques to process encrypted data,” said Karama, who specializes in such encrypted processing techniques. “This gives us the ability to run algorithms (including machine learning algorithms) over encrypted data, to search through encrypted files and to query encrypted databases — all without ever decrypting the data.

“By leveraging these advances in cryptography,” Kamara continued, “financial technologies could deliver on their promise to improve the financial health of their customers without them having to sacrifice their privacy.”

Kamara’s complete testimony and a video of the proceedings are available on the U.S. House Financial Services Committee website.