URI engineer invites ‘attacks’ on program

KINGSTON – As online shopping becomes more common, shoppers increasingly depend on consumer-based rating systems that vendors use to rate their products. Now, a computer engineer at the University of Rhode Island is offering $1,000 to the person or team who has the most luck manipulating an online ratings system protected by an algorithm she created.
“We hope that the contest will enable us to collect a lot of attack data, which can be used as a benchmark for testing our algorithm and future algorithms,” said Yan Sun, an assistant professor of computer engineering at URI. “It’s the best way to test it against real attackers.”
Systems already exist to detect obvious efforts to manipulate ratings, but current algorithms cannot detect “smart attackers” who try to make subtle changes to a product’s rating, Sun said. She and URI colleagues Qing Yang and Yafei Yang have developed an algorithm that protects against such attacks. A patent on the algorithm is pending.
The contest began April 25 and runs through July 30. Rules and registration requirements can be found at www.etanlab.com/rating.

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