Computer science students showcase summer research

Haneef Ghanim’s Crystal Ball can tell whether a Facebook application you’ve allowed to access your profile page can guess the secret answers to the security questions used to protect your online banking account or other sensitive information online.

The University of Toronto undergraduate computer science student built the Facebook privacy app as part of his studies and showcased it, along with other students and their projects, last Friday on campus.

The goal of The Crystal Ball, said Ghanim, 20, is to demonstrate and raise awareness about how easy it is to collect important personal information from social networking sites.
“The same sort of information used for security questions tends to be available on online sites such as Facebook, Google+, MySpace,” said Ghanim.

The real world applicability of the app, he said, could be for advertising purposes where companies can figure out an individual’s preferences and hobbies and target marketing initiatives accordingly.

Another project being showcased, called An Incremental Interpreter for Datalog, by student Maria Rafaela Tsimpoukelli, 20, is designed for faster program analysis.

The interpreter saves time by scrutinizing only the part of the program that needs to be evaluated. “It doesn’t start from the beginning,” said Tsimpoukelli. “It’s faster.”

Besides for program analysis, Tsimpoukelli expects the interpreter could have applicability in other areas where Datalog is used such as data integration.

Eric Zhu’s project, AutoDict, is a Web app for automated dictionary discovery. The 21-year-old student said businesses the likes of Amazon that must manage a plethora of customers’ semi-structured information will find this particularly useful.

“The semi-structured data contains a lot of information such as which attributes that customer is interested in,” said Zhu. “So it’s very important for them to figure out what are those attributes.”

Francois Pitt, undergraduate liaison at the University of Toronto, said the annual summer event is beneficial to both students and faculty.

“It’s a win-win,” said Pitt. “The students get that chance to do some interesting research work on real-world projects, not just class projects that they know will get thrown away at the end of the course. The faculty members get the pick of the crop instead of waiting for undergrads to finish their degree and apply to grad school.”

Besides that valuable altruistic relationship, it’s also an opportunity for students to break out of their research silos and find out what others are working on.

“It’s one of these feel-good events,” said Pitt.

Follow Kathleen Lau on Twitter: @KathleenLau

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