Balancing Image Privacy and Usability with Thumbnail-Preserving Encryption

Kimia Tajik (Oregon State University), Akshith Gunasekaran (Oregon State University), Rhea Dutta (Cornell University), Brandon Ellis (Oregon State University), Rakesh B. Bobba (Oregon State University), Mike Rosulek (Oregon State University), Charles V. Wright (Portland State University), Wu-Chi Feng (Portland State University)

In this paper, we motivate the need for image encryption techniques that preserve certain visual features in images and hide all other information, to balance privacy and usability in the context of cloud-based image storage services. In particular, we introduce the concept of ideal or exact Thumbnail-Preserving Encryption (TPE), a special case of format-preserving encryption, and present a concrete construction. In TPE, a ciphertext is itself an image that has the same thumbnail as the plaintext (unecrypted) image, but that provably leaks nothing about the plaintext beyond its thumbnail. We provide a formal security analysis for the construction, and a prototype implementation to demonstrate compatibility with existing services. We also study the ability of users to distinguish between thumbnail images preserved by TPE. Our findings indicate that TPE is an efficient and promising approach to balance usability and privacy concerns for images. Our code and a demo are available at: http://photoencryption.org.