Students at the National University of Singapore. Source: Flickr /

Students at the National University of Singapore. Source: Flickr /

Singapore sets up new centers to research data privacy technologies

DATA privacy is a key challenge in today’s day and age, but it’s also something that helps governments (and companies) make better decisions.

Obviously, protecting data privacy and ensuring confidentiality of identities and critical information should be key, but when anonimized or stripped of its identifying properties, can help really narrow down on key challenges and focus on making a real difference.

In Singapore, the National Research Foundation (NRF) understands the importance of data in building a Smart Nation.

According to the NRF, a Smart Nation relies heavily on data mining, analysis, and sharing between parties for better service delivery.

However, it also understands that the underlying data often contains sensitive information about people such as their identity, demographic data, location, health conditions, and financial records.

“To guard against privacy breaches, which can lead to severe consequences for an individual or an organisation, while maintaining the usefulness of accessible data, new privacy-preserving solutions are required,” the organization said recently.

Hence, the NRF has set up two research centres to carry out cutting-edge research to design and develop privacy-preserving technologies and train skilled manpower — N-CRiPT and SCRIPTS.

The need for N-CRiPT

The NUS Centre for Research in Privacy Technologies (N-CRiPT) will be based in the National University of Singapore (NUS) School of Computing and affiliated with the NUS Smart Systems Institute. It will be led by Professor Mohan Kankanhalli, Dean of the NUS School of Computing.

While the primary goal of N-CRiPT is to help prevent privacy leaks, the centre will also look into privacy risk management which includes quantifying the practical risk and potential costs involved in the case of data leakages.

N-CRiPT will develop new privacy-preserving solutions for structured and unstructured data, and solutions to protect data throughout its life cycle, from collection and curation to processing and sharing.

One technique that N-CRiPT is expected to explore is the generation of synthetic data that mirrors the proportion of the original data sets.

“Since such synthetic data is not linked to any individual, this reduces the risk of privacy breaches when multiple parties or companies come together to share and analyse the data,” said the NRF.

N-CRiPT commenced operations in October 2018, with 12 researchers and 17 PhD and Master’s students working on four privacy-preserving projects at the centre.

Structure and purpose of SCRIPTS

The Strategic Centre for Research in Privacy-Preserving Technologies & Systems (SCRIPTS) will be based in Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU). It will be led by Professor Lam Kwok Yan, Programme Chair (Secure Community) at NTU Graduate College.

To translate research into applications, SCRIPTS is expected to provide off-the-shelf solutions to businesses for differential privacy and computing on encrypted data.

For example, it has been decided that the organization collaborate with a Singapore-based cybersecurity company to develop a blockchain-based e-logistics solution that enables supply chain transparency and prevents counterfeiting, while ensuring the privacy of commercial information.

This solution can be used for a wide range of products including fast moving consumer goods, pharmaceutical and health products, luxury products, food supplies and more.

SCRIPTS commenced operations in November 2018, with 30 researchers working on seven projects at the centre.