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Privacy-Oriented Technique for COVID-19 Contact Tracing (PROTECT) Using Homomorphic Encryption: Design and Development Study

Cited 12 time in Web of Science Cited 15 time in Scopus

An, Yongdae; Lee, Seungmyung; Jung, Seungwoo; Park, Howard; Song, Yongsoo; Ko, Taehoon

Issue Date
Journal of medical Internet Research
Journal of Medical Internet Research, Vol.23 No.7, p. e26371
Background: Various techniques are used to support contact tracing, which has been shown to be highly effective against the COVID-19 pandemic. To apply the technology, either quarantine authorities should provide the location history of patients with COVID-19, or all users should provide their own location history. This inevitably exposes either the patient's location history or the personal location history of other users. Thus, a privacy issue arises where the public good (via information release) comes in conflict with privacy exposure risks. Objective: The objective of this study is to develop an effective contact tracing system that does not expose the location information of the patient with COVID-19 to other users of the system, or the location information of the users to the quarantine authorities. Methods: We propose a new protocol called PRivacy Oriented Technique for Epidemic Contact Tracing (PROTECT) that securely shares location information of patients with users by using the Brakerski/Fan-Vercauteren homomorphic encryption scheme, along with a new, secure proximity computation method. Results: We developed a mobile app for the end-user and a web service for the quarantine authorities by applying the proposed method, and we verified their effectiveness. The proposed app and web service compute the existence of intersections between the encrypted location history of patients with COVID-19 released by the quarantine authorities and that of the user saved on the user's local device. We also found that this contact tracing smartphone app can identify whether the user has been in contact with such patients within a reasonable time. Conclusions: This newly developed method for contact tracing shares location information by using homomorphic encryption, without exposing the location information of patients with COVID-19 and other users. Homomorphic encryption is challenging to apply to practical issues despite its high security value. In this study, however, we have designed a system using the Brakerski/Fan-Vercauteren scheme that is applicable to a reasonable size and developed it to an operable format. The developed app and web service can help contact tracing for not only the COVID-19 pandemic but also other epidemics.
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  • College of Engineering
  • Dept. of Computer Science and Engineering
Research Area Cryptography, Privacy, Security


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