P2P and Security in the SCOUT framework

Type of Thesis: 
Master Thesis


General information on SCOUT (can be skipped):

The term "Mobile Web" is typically used when users employ their mobile device (e.g., smart phone, PDA) and a dedicated mobile browser (e.g., Skyfire, Opera Mini) to access the web. Although the Mobile Web makes websites accessible anywhere and anytime, the interface limitations of mobile devices (e.g., small screen, limited input capabilities) still hinder the widespread mobile use of the web. Furthermore, in a mobile setting (e.g., driving, walking, sightseeing), users are often unable or reluctant to spend large amounts of time locating the information and services that they need at that particular moment and time. For instance, when you are walking around in your free time and want to view a visited monument’s history, or find out what items a nearby shop sells, you do not want to constantly "google" for the necessary information. It is important that mobile users can get the information or services at the time and place that they need it, with minimal effort.

The SCOUT framework allows the development of context-aware, mobile applications that provide information (and services) to the user at the time and place they require it. For this purpose, SCOUT uses so-called detection techniques to locate information related to physical entities (people, places and things) in the user’s surroundings. For instance, by using miniscule, inexpensive transponders (e.g., RFID tags) to tag objects with references to associated online data sources (e.g., online shop catalog, FOAF profile), mobile devices with built-in detectors (e.g., RFID readers) can easily obtain online data related to their surroundings. Furthermore, existing online Semantic Web services such as LinkedGeoData can be employed to obtain a list of physical entities in the user’s vicinity (based on his GPS position), together with extensive information on the entities. Based on the detected entities and their online information, SCOUT constructs and maintains an abstract view on the user’s environment called the Environment Model. Applications can query this model to obtain information on any part of the user’s environment, to determine which information is useful to the user at that time: for instance, a nearby shop is selling products in which the user is interested, or historical information on nearby monuments in case of a tourist setting. Behind the scenes, the online information sources are accessed to obtain the necessary information. The power of SCOUT lies in the fact that it relies on existing, online semantic data that can be linked to the user’s physical environment in various ways (e.g., using RFID tags, or online services), and therefore does not require specialized, proprietary data providers to be setup. Furthermore, it runs on the user’s mobile device itself, and thus no expensive middleware (i.e., intermediary servers) needs to be installed.

Mobile computing has become a huge research domain with numerous applications in real-life, as powerful mobile computing devices (e.g., smartphones, PDAs) together with ubiquitous mobile connectivity (e.g., 3G, WiFi) have become commonplace. The SCOUT framework builds upon this mobile revolution, and allows mobile applications to be fine-tuned to the user’s mobile context in a flexible and scalable way. A lot of research has already been put in this framework, resulting in a powerful, efficient system that can be used for a variety of purposes, or extended to increase its usefulness and performance. Below, you can find several research thesis topics related to the SCOUT framework. As SCOUT runs on the Android platform, any of the thesis topics involve development for this mobile platform (however, no previous knowledge on Android development is required). 

Thesis proposal:

In the SCOUT framework, the user’s physical environment is represented as an abstract Environment Model, which can be queried by applications to obtain information on any piece of the user’s environment. However, other applications, not running on the user’s mobile device, can also benefit from the information in this model. For instance, a social networking site can track the route, visited places, etc of a tourist on a holiday, and share this information with family and friends. Foursquare.com is an existing social networking site that allows you to find friends in your vicinity, and encourages you to explore your city. If such websites could access the rich and extensive metadata present in the Environment Model (e.g., nearby people's FOAF profile, catalogs of nearby shops, etc), they would become much more powerful. Furthermore, other instances of SCOUT (i.e., running on different user devices) could benefit from the information in the Environment Models of other users. For instance, to share information on encountered places, people and things, to recommend certain places or routes through the city, or to obtain data on an environment (e.g., part of the city) the user has not yet visited. Additionally, cached environment data can be shared with nearby SCOUT instances, increasing the efficiency of the system. To achieve efficient access from online websites, the Environment Model could for instance be replicated on a WWW server, to relieve the mobile device from serving all of the information requests. In order to enable P2P connections with other SCOUT instances, an efficient and robust (and secure!) communication protocol will need to be developed or re-used and extended. This protocol can then be used in an opportunistic way, allowing mobile devices to find out more about their environment by querying other nearby mobile devices.

It is clear that in such a P2P environment, access to the Environment Model needs to be restricted; not everyone should be able to find out where the user is currently, or where he has been! Therefore, solid privacy policies need to be put in place, together with a global accessing scheme supporting different levels of granularity (e.g., the user's wife may have access to the full Environment Model, the user's close friends only to certain parts, and anyone else only a very minimal part).

The specific research focus of this thesis (e.g., sharing environment data through P2P vs. security and privacy) depends on the interests of the student. Note that in the latter case, the student will have to familiarize himself with the domain, and will be required to perform a lot of self-study.

Background Knowledge: 
  • Java
Technical challenges: 
  • Programming for Android
  • Learning about computer/network security, privacy, authorization policies
  • Learning about P2P
  • Learning Semantic Web technology
William Van Woensel
Academic Year: