Roya Ensafi

Assistant Professor, Computer Science & Engineering , University of Michigan

OTF Advisory Council
Founder and Faculty Advisor of WISER
Dissonance Organizing Committee


Email:  ensafi [@] umich.edu
Twitter:  @royaensafi
BioCVGoogle ScholarMore about me!


Recent Awards:
Consumer Report Digital Lab Fellow (2021)
Google Faculty Research Award (2018)
NSF CNS Research Initiation Initiative (2018)
IRTF Applied Networking Research Prize (2016)

My research broadly lies at the intersection of networking, security and privacy, and Internet measurement. I build scalable techniques and systems to protect users’ Internet experiences from disruption, surveillance, and digital inequity. My work takes a data-driven approach to detecting and defending against powerful network intermediaries, government threat actors, and technologies and practices that impact users’ freedom of expression online.

Members of my lab

Reethika Ramesh, Ram Sundara Raman, Renuka Kumar (co-advised by Atul Prakash), Elisa Tsai, Diwen Xue, Yael Eiger, Apurva Virkud, Armin Huremagic, Gavin Li, Anna Ablove.

Alumni include: Muhammad Ikram (→ Lecturer, Macquarie University), Anjali Vyas (→ Masters Student, Cornell Tech), Nick Ceccio (→ PhD Student, Wisconsin - Madison), Victor Ongkowijaya (→ PhD Student, Princeton), Adrian Stoll (→ Software Engineer, Google), Prerana Shenoy (→ Product Security Engineer, Atlassian), Leonid Evdokimov, Elio Qoshi (→ Ura Design), Arham Jain (→ Software Engineer, Google).

Flagship Projects

Censored Planet: Censored Planet is a platform that provides continuous, global data about Internet censorship practices in countries around the world. It builds on my long line of work developing remote censorship measurement techniques. My group operates several of these systems, curates the data, and publishes continuous datasets about the reachability of thousands of sensitive websites from more than 221 countries. In partnership with Google Jigsaw, we recently launched a cloud-based data analysis pipeline and a visualization dashboard, facilitating use of our data by more than 100 organizations spanning research and human rights advocacy. Some of our high profile rapid response investigations include Kazakhstan HTTPS interception and Russia’s throttling of Twitter. Read more about this project at https://censoredplanet.org.

VPNalyzer: VPNalyzer aims to analyze the commercial VPN ecosystem through three parallel efforts: a cross-platform user- facing tool that facilitates rigorous, efficient, and continuous checks of VPNs’ security and privacy; large-scale user studies to understand the needs of VPN users; and qualitative studies surveying VPN providers to understand their technical and operational challenges and to uncover dark patterns in their operations, pricing, and marketing. VPNalyzer was awarded the Consumer Reports Digital Lab fellowship, read more about this project at https://vpnalyzer.org.

Splintering Net: The Internet is becoming increasingly regionalized due to sanctions, financial regulations, copyright and licensing rights, perceived abuse, or a perceived lack of customers. We conduct measurement studies to understand how these issues affect user’s experience from different geolocation (geo-equity). Read more about this project at https://splintering.net.


These are just my lab flagship projects. Please refer to my publication page or contact me for more information about my lab projects.

Research in the news   ⇒ All Press

Selected Publications   ⇒ All Publications

Teaching   ⇒ All Teaching

    EECS 588 Computer and Network Security

    University of Michigan [Fall 2020]

    Course Description: Intensive research seminar covers foundations, research literature, and current topics in computer systems security. This course prepares graduate students for security-related research, and helps them gain hands-on experience designing and evaluating secure systems.

    Prerequisites: EECS 482 Operating Systems, EECS 489 Computer Networks, EECS 388 Introduction to Security, or grad standing.

Updates   ⇒ All Updates

  • December 2021: Invited by the President of the United States, I participated on Democracy–Affirming Technology panel at The Summit for Democracy..
  • November 2021: I participated at Trust Conference on The Human Cost of Internet Shutdowns.
  • November 2021: We uploaded a recorded version of our Censored Planet Webinar.
  • November 2021: Diwen presented our paper (recognized as the highest scoring short paper!) on Russia's Twitter throttling at IMC '21.
  • November 2021: I served on the PCs for Sec '21, IMC '21, and FOCI '21.
  • October 2021: I was an invited panelist for The Human Cost of Internet Shutdowns at OFF '21.
  • October 2021: I announced the alpha release of the Censored Planet Dashboard, developed in collaboration with Jigsaw.
  • October 2021: We hosted a Censored Planet Community Webinar with over 50 attendees!
  • September 2021: I am part of the OTF IFF Advisory Council Cohort for 2020-21.
  • September 2021: I was awarded two DRL Internet Freedom grants (Co-PI).
  • September 2021: I was awarded a DARPA grant (PI) for the project Leveraging machine learning to build an intelligent Censored Planet observatory.
  • May 2021: I gave a lightning talk on our VPNalyzer project at a webinar for the Consumer Reports Digital Lab Fellows.
  • April 2021: We published a report on Russia's throttling of twitter.
  • March 2021: Reethika and I were invited panelists at the Consumer Reports Workshop, Exploring VPNs, with over 1500 attendees.
  • March 2021: Anjali presented our COVID paper at FC '21.
  • March 2021: We opened our VPNalyzer user survey, with support from the Consumer Reports Digital Lab.
  • February 2021: Ram gave an invited talk on Censored Planet at the DNS Privacy Workshop '21 (colocated with NDSS).
  • November 2020: Ram was a finalist in the 2020 Michigan CSE Graduate Student Honors Competition, representing the Michigan Systems Lab.
  • November 2020: We published a report on Censored Planet.
  • November 2020: Ram presented our Censored Planet paper at CCS '20.
  • November 2020: Our NDSS '20 paper on Russia was selected as a finalist and was among the Top 10 papers for the US-Canada region at the CSAW '20 Applied Research Competition.
  • October 2020: Ram presented our paper (nominated for the best paper award!) on investigating HTTPS interception in Kazakhstan at IMC '20.
  • October 2020: I served on the PCs for IMC '20 and PoPETs '20.
  • September 2020: I was on the steering committee for WTMC '20 (colocated with Euro S&P).
  • September 2020: I was named as a Consumer Reports Digital Lab Fellow for 2020-21! My team will be investigating the VPN ecosystem through large-scale data-driven analysis.
  • September 2020: I was awarded a DRL Internet Freedom grant (PI) for the project Censored Planet: A Global Observatory for Internet Censorship.
  • August 2020: Reethika gave an invited talk about Russia's decentralized control at the Next Generation Democracy Cafe.
  • August 2020: I co-chaired FOCI '20. This was the 10th anniversary of FOCI (Workshop on Free and Open Communications on the Internet, colocated with USENIX Security), with a record number of submitted papers (2x past years and 2021), registered participants, and attendees per talk (70 on average). My PhD student, Reethika served as the Student Organizer.
  • August 2020: We published a report on US websites geoblocked in Hong Kong.
  • June 2020: Ram gave a talk on the Censored Planet observatory at OONI IMV '20.
  • February 2020: Ram presented our Filtermap paper and Reethika presented our Russia paper at NDSS '20!
  • February 2020: We published a report on Filtermap.
  • January 2020: I gave an invited talk, Censorship Proliferation: Three Transformations in the Globally Spreading Practice of Online Censorship, at Princeton CITP, Iowa University, and Macquarie University.
  • December 2019: I was on the organizing committee for Big-DAMA '19 (colocated with ACM CoNEXT).
  • November 2019: We published a report on Russia's decentralized censorship model.
  • October 2019: I served on the PCs for IMC '19, FOCI '19, Sec '20, and Oakland S&P '19.
  • August 2019: I founded WISER, a group for Women in SEcurity Research. I also serve as the faculty advisor.
  • July 2019: Ram and Reethika attended the 2019 Citizen Lab Summer Institute through Citizen Lab's travel grants and hosted a session on investigating MitM interceptions in Kazakhstan.
  • July 2019: We published a report on Kazakhstan's HTTPS interception.
  • May 2019: Reethika gave a PhD lightning talk, Decentralized Control of the Network, at the Mozilla Security Research Summit.
  • May 2019: I gave a keynote talk at WTMC '19 (colocated with Oakland S&P).
  • December 2018: I gave a talk on building the Censored Planet observatory at CCC '18.
  • December 2018: I served as a Travel Grants Chair for CoNEXT '18.
  • November 2018: Reethika presented our lab's work at the Research Process Workshop.
  • October 2018: I served on the PCs for CCS '18, FOCI '18, and RAID '18.
  • September 2018: Reethika presented our lab's work at the CS Kickstart event.
  • August 2018: I served as a session chair for Sec '18 and FOCI '18.
  • August 2018: Ram gave a lightning talk on Censored Planet at FOCI '18.
  • April 2018: I was awarded an OTF grant (PI).
  • February 2018: I was awarded a Google Faculty Research Award.
  • February 2018: I was awarded a NSF-CRII grant (PI).
  • November 2017: I served on the PCs and as a session chair for IMC '17 and FOCI '17.

Talks:

Censored Planet Webinar (2021)

CensoredPlanet

Research Overview (2017)

Augur