Clayton Drazner Researches Computer & Internet Security and Privacy

Clayton DraznerComputer Science senior Clayton Drazner has spent the last two summers researching computer and internet security and privacy with CS professor and Rice Computer Security Lab manager Dan Wallach.

Drazner’s research focuses on internet ad blocking and anti-ad blocking. “In a nutshell, first you have ads on websites,” he said. “Users usually don’t want to see them, and they may contain malware. So [users] run ad blockers, and a lot of companies and website owners end up losing revenue to that. Many of them make most of their money from ads, so some sites are now using anti-adblock software to display a warning message or refuse entry if adblock tools are detected.”

This tactic is used by the Forbes website, which asks users to turn off ad blockers before allowing them to view a page. Drazner said, “[These people] then realize their blocker isn’t working, so they start using anti-adblock-killers, and now you have an arms race.”

Drazner has also researched electronic voting systems. He worked on STAR-vote, a collaboration between several researchers, including Dr. Wallach and the Travis County Texas elections office. “Dan’s the only professor on campus who really specializes in computer security,” Drazner said. “He discussed STAR-vote in COMP 435 Election Systems, also cross-listed as a POLI and PSYC class.”

One important element to voting systems is usability–making software easily understandable and usable by people who didn’t build it. “We’re also working with the Human Factors research lab at Rice,” said Drazner. “It’s surprisingly easy to create a system that isn’t really usable, especially if you’re an engineer without training in that field.”

Clayton DraznerHe described the need for getting the human factors aspect of their project right. “The idea is to set up the system, have a potential user in the target audience try voting, and see what goes wrong…It’s not enough to just walk them through using the software and say ‘it’s user-friendly’–that’s not scalable. You want the voting to go quickly, so you can’t spend time walking each person through the process.”

In addition to his research work, he is also a COMP 215 TA, head of the elections committee at Sid Richardson College, and has participated in various theatrical performances on campus. After he graduates, he plans to work in the technical industry, but he may pursue a master’s degree in CS first.

Interestingly, Drazner chose Rice before deciding his major or discovering his passion for cybersecurity research. He said, “Late in my senior year of high school, I had a friend who was really into CS and convinced me to take a look. So I sat in on Luay’s COMP 182 class while touring Rice. I understood probably only a fifth of what he was talking about, but I was like, this is awesome. Then it was just deciding what I wanted to do with [CS], and after talking to Dan…well, this is where I am.”

–Juliann Bi, Computer Science Marketing Assistant