Serving Understudied Communities Through Computer Security and Privacy Research

August 29, 2023

Professor Aviv and studnets

Congratulations to Ph.D. candidate Collins W. Munyendo and Computer Science Assistant Professor Yasemin Acar and Associate Professor Adam Aviv on winning a Distinguished Paper Award at the 2023 IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy! The team won this award for their paper, “In Eighty Percent of the Cases, I Select the Password for Them: Security and Privacy Challenges, Advice, and Opportunities at Cybercafes in Kenya.”

Since 1980, the IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy has been the premier forum for computer security research. This year, researchers and practitioners came together in San Francisco at the end of May to present the latest developments in computer security and electronic privacy. The area of computer security this GW Engineering team chose to research was the security and privacy challenges at cybercafes in Kenya.

The team found that most cybercafe customers in Kenya struggle with the general use of computers in addition to password selection and management. When navigating these challenges, they often rely on cybercafe employees who mostly advise them to use memorable passwords, such as using their national ID numbers. Unfortunately, this makes it easy for others to guess their password and access their accounts if they gain access to their personal information.

After identifying these challenges, the team provided several recommendations. Their first suggestion is for the Kenyan government to provide computer training and security awareness as they attempt to digitalize all government services. They also recommended the need for alternative methods of authentication that are better suited to these users’ needs, such as password-less authentication. Overall, their research emphasizes the need for more work to be done surrounding security and privacy advice beyond Western contexts to support broader populations.

“It’s a massive honor to receive this award! I hope this work will inspire other researchers to explore other understudied communities whose unique needs and challenges are not always necessarily accounted for by broader security and privacy solutions,” Munyendo said.

Aviv added, “It’s important that research that focuses on users beyond a Western context is being recognized in this way. This award cements Collins as a rising star in the field in this research area.”