Title: An Efficient and Secure Location-based Alert Protocol using Searchable Encryption and Huffman Codes
Location data are widely used in mobile apps, ranging from location-based recommendations, to social media and navigation. A specific type of interaction is that of location-based alerts, where mobile users subscribe to a service provider (SP) in order to be notified when a certain event occurs nearby. Consider, for instance, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, where contact tracing has been singled out as an effective means to control the virus spread. Users wish to be notified if they came in proximity to an infected individual. However, serious privacy concerns arise if the users share their location history with the SP in plaintext. To address privacy, recent work proposed several protocols that can securely implement location-based alerts. The users upload their encrypted locations to the SP, and the evaluation of location predicates is done directly on ciphertexts. When a certain individual is reported as infected, all matching ciphertexts are found (e.g., according to a predicate such as “10 feet proximity to any of the locations visited by the infected patient in the last week”), and the corresponding users notified. However, there are significant performance issues associated with existing protocols. The underlying searchable encryption primitives required to perform the matching on ciphertexts are expensive, and without a proper encoding of locations and search predicates, the performance can degrade a lot. In this paper, we propose a novel method for variable-length location encoding based on Huffman codes. By controlling the length required to represent encrypted locations and the corresponding matching predicates, we are able to significantly speed up performance. We provide a theoretical analysis of the gain achieved by using Huffman codes, and we show through extensive experiments that the improvement compared with fixed-length encoding methods is substantial.