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Privacy-preserving Distributed Mining of

Association Rules on Horizontally Partitioned Data
Murat Kantarcıoǧlu and Chris Clifton, Senior Member, IEEE

Abstract— Data mining can extract important knowledge from to the distributed case using the following lemma: If a rule
large data collections – but sometimes these collections are split has support > k% globally, it must have support > k% on
among various parties. Privacy concerns may prevent the parties at least one of the individual sites. A distributed algorithm for
from directly sharing the data, and some types of information
about the data. This paper addresses secure mining of association this would work as follows: Request that each site send all
rules over horizontally partitioned data. The methods incorporate rules with support at least k. For each rule returned, request
cryptographic techniques to minimize the information shared, that all sites send the count of their transactions that support
while adding little overhead to the mining task. the rule, and the total count of all transactions at the site.
Index Terms— Data Mining, Security, Privacy From this, we can compute the global support of each rule,
and (from the lemma) be certain that all rules with support at
least k have been found. More thorough studies of distributed
I. I NTRODUCTION association rule mining can be found in [2], [3].
Data mining technology has emerged as a means of identi- The above approach protects individual data privacy, but
fying patterns and trends from large quantities of data. Data it does require that each site disclose what rules it supports,
mining and data warehousing go hand-in-hand: most tools and how much it supports each potential global rule. What
operate by gathering all data into a central site, then running if this information is sensitive? For example, suppose the
an algorithm against that data. However, privacy concerns Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a public agency, would
can prevent building a centralized warehouse – data may like to mine health records to try to find ways to reduce
be distributed among several custodians, none of which are the proliferation of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Insurance
allowed to transfer their data to another site. companies have data on patient diseases and prescriptions.
This paper addresses the problem of computing associa- Mining this data would allow the discovery of rules such
tion rules within such a scenario. We assume homogeneous as Augmentin&Summer ⇒ Inf ection&F all, i.e., people
databases: All sites have the same schema, but each site has taking Augmentin in the summer seem to have recurring
information on different entities. The goal is to produce asso- infections.
ciation rules that hold globally, while limiting the information The problem is that insurance companies will be concerned
shared about each site. about sharing this data. Not only must the privacy of patient
Computing association rules without disclosing individual records be maintained, but insurers will be unwilling to release
transactions is straightforward. We can compute the global rules pertaining only to them. Imagine a rule indicating a high
support and confidence of an association rule AB ⇒ C rate of complications with a particular medical procedure. If
knowing only the local supports of AB and ABC, and the this rule doesn’t hold globally, the insurer would like to know
size of each database: this – they can then try to pinpoint the problem with their
Psites policies and improve patient care. If the fact that the insurer’s
i=1 support countABC (i)
supportAB⇒C = P sites data supports this rule is revealed (say, under a Freedom of
i=1 database size(i) Information Act request to the CDC), the insurerer could be
i=1 support countAB (i) exposed to significant public relations or liability problems.
supportAB = sites
P This potential risk could exceed their own perception of the
i=1 database size(i)
supportAB⇒C benefit of participating in the CDC study.
conf idenceAB⇒C = This paper presents a solution that preserves such
secrets – the parties learn (almost) nothing beyond
Note that this doesn’t require sharing any individual transac- the global results. The solution is efficient: The addi-
tions. We can easily extend an algorithm such as a-priori [1] tional cost relative to previous non-secure techniques is
The authors are with the Department of Computer Sciences, Purdue O(number of candidate itemsets ∗ sites) encryptions, and
University, 250 N. University St, W. Lafayette, IN 47907. a constant increase in the number of messages.
E-mail:, The method presented in this paper assumes three or more
Manuscript received 29 Jan. 2003; revised 11 Jun. 2003, accepted 1 Jul.
2003. parties. In the two-party case, knowing a rule is supported
c IEEE. Personal use of this material is permitted. However, permis- globally and not supported at one’s own site reveals that the
sion to reprint/republish this material for advertising or promotional purposes other site supports the rule. Thus, much of the knowledge
or for creating new collective works for resale or redistribution to servers or
lists, or to reuse any copyrighted component of this work in other works must we try to protect is revealed even with a completely secure
be obtained from the IEEE. method for computing the global results. We discuss the two-

E2(E3(C)) Site 1 E1(C)

E2(E3(D)) C Site 1 R+count-5%*DBsize
R=17 ABC: 5 = 17+5-5%*100
DBSize = 100

C ABC: Yes!
18 ≥ R? 17
Site 2 Site 3 E3(E1(C))

Site 3 Site 2
ABC: 20 13 ABC: 6
DBSize = 300 DBSize=200
Fig. 1. Determining global candidate itemsets

13+20-5%*300 17+6-5%*200
party case further in Section V. By the same argument, we
assume no collusion, as colluding parties can reduce this to Fig. 2. Determining if itemset support exceeds 5% threshold
the two-party case.
then go into detail on specific background work on which this
A. Private Association Rule Mining Overview paper builds.
Our method follows the basic approach outlined on Page 2 Previous work in privacy-preserving data mining has ad-
except that values are passed between the local data mining dressed two issues. In one, the aim is preserving customer
sites rather than to a centralized combiner. The two phases privacy by distorting the data values [4]. The idea is that
are discovering candidate itemsets (those that are frequent on the distorted data does not reveal private information, and
one or more sites), and determining which of the candidate thus is “safe” to use for mining. The key result is that the
itemsets meet the global support/confidence thresholds. distorted data, and information on the distribution of the
The first phase (Figure 1) uses commutative encryption. random data used to distort the data, can be used to generate
Each party encrypts its own frequent itemsets (e.g., Site 1 an approximation to the original data distribution, without
encrypts itemset C). The encrypted itemsets are then passed revealing the original data values. The distribution is used to
to other parties, until all parties have encrypted all itemsets. improve mining results over mining the distorted data directly,
These are passed to a common party to eliminate duplicates, primarily through selection of split points to “bin” continuous
and to begin decryption. (In the figure, the full set of itemsets data. Later refinement of this approach tightened the bounds
are shown to the left of Site 1, after Site 1 decrypts.) This on what private information is disclosed, by showing that the
set is then passed to each party, and each party decrypts each ability to reconstruct the distribution can be used to tighten
itemset. The final result is the common itemsets (C and D in estimates of original values based on the distorted data [5].
the figure). More recently, the data distortion approach has been applied
In the second phase (Figure 2), each of the locally supported to boolean association rules [6], [7]. Again, the idea is to
itemsets is tested to see if it is supported globally. In the figure, modify data values such that reconstruction of the values for
the itemset ABC is known to be supported at one or more sites, any individual transaction is difficult, but the rules learned on
and each computes their local support. The first site chooses a the distorted data are still valid. One interesting feature of
random value R, and adds to R the amount by which its support this work is a flexible definition of privacy; e.g., the ability to
for ABC exceeds the minimum support threshold. This value is correctly guess a value of ‘1’ from the distorted data can be
passed to site 2, which adds the amount by which its support considered a greater threat to privacy than correctly learning
exceeds the threshold (note that this may be negative, as shown a ‘0’.
in the figure.) This is passed to site three, which again adds The data distortion approach addresses a different problem
its excess support. The resulting value (18) is tested using a from our work. The assumption with distortion is that the
secure comparison to see if it exceeds the Random value (17). values must be kept private from whoever is doing the mining.
If so, itemset ABC is supported globally. We instead assume that some parties are allowed to see some
This gives a brief, oversimplified idea of how the method of the data, just that no one is allowed to see all the data.
works. Section III gives full details. Before going into the In return, we are able to get exact, rather than approximate,
details, we give background and definitions of relevant data results.
mining and security techniques. The other approach uses cryptographic tools to build deci-
sion trees. [8] In this work, the goal is to securely build an
ID3 decision tree where the training set is distributed between
II. BACKGROUND AND R ELATED W ORK two parties. The basic idea is that finding the attribute that
There are several fields where related work is occurring. We maximizes information gain is equivalent to finding the at-
first describe other work in privacy-preserving data mining, tribute that minimizes the conditional entropy. The conditional

entropy for an attribute for two parties can be written as a transactions containsPX. The global support count of X is
sum of the expression of the form (v1 + v2 ) × log(v1 + v2 ). given as X.sup = i=1 X.sup Pn i . An itemset X is globally
The authors give a way to securely calculate the expression supported if X.sup ≥ s × ( i=1 |DBi |). Global confidence
(v1 + v2 ) × log(v1 + v2 ) and show how to use this function of a rule X ⇒ Y can be given as {X ∪ Y } .sup/X.sup.
for building the ID3 securely. This approach treats privacy- The set of large itemsets L(k) consists of all k-itemsets
preserving data mining as a special case of secure multi-party that are globally supported. The set of locally large itemsets
computation [9] and not only aims for preserving individual LLi(k) consists of all k-itemsets supported locally at site Si .
privacy but also tries to preserve leakage of any information GLi(k) = L(k) ∩ LLi(k) is the set of globally large k-itemsets
other than the final result. We follow this approach, but address locally supported at site Si . The aim of distributed association
a different problem (association rules), and emphasize the rule mining is to find the sets L(k) for all k > 1 and the support
efficiency of the resulting algorithms. A particular difference counts for these itemsets, and from this compute association
is that we recognize that some kinds of information can be rules with the specified minimum support and confidence.
exchanged without violating security policies; secure multi- A fast algorithm for distributed association rule mining is
party computation forbids leakage of any information other given in Cheung et. al. [2]. Their procedure for fast distributed
than the final result. The ability to share non-sensitive data mining of association rules (FDM) is summarized below.
enables highly efficient solutions. 1) Candidate Sets Generation: Generate candidate sets
The problem of privately computing association rules in CGi(k) based on GLi(k−1) , itemsets that are supported
vertically partitioned distributed data has also been addressed by the Si at the (k-1)-th iteration, using the classic a-
[10]. The vertically partitioned problem occurs when each priori candidate generation algorithm. Each site gener-
transaction is split across multiple sites, with each site having ates candidates based on the intersection of globally
a different set of attributes for the entire set of transactions. large (k-1) itemsets and locally large (k-1) itemsets.
With horizontal partitioning each site has a set of complete 2) Local Pruning: For each X ∈ CGi(k) , scan the
transactions. In relational terms, with horizontal partioning the database DBi at Si to compute X.supi . If X is locally
relation to be mined is the union of the relations at the sites. In large Si , it is included in the LLi(k) set. It is clear that
vertical partitioning, the relations at the individual sites must if X is supported globally, it will be supported in one
be joined to get the relation to be mined. The change in the site.
way the data is distributed makes this a much different problem 3) Support Count Exchange: LLi(k) are broadcast, and
from the one we address here, resulting in a very different each site computes the local support for the items in
solution. ∪i LLi(k) .
4) Broadcast Mining Results: Each site broadcasts the
A. Mining of Association Rules local support for itemsets in ∪i LLi(k) . From this, each
site is able to compute L(k) .
The association rules mining problem can be defined as
follows: [1] Let I = {i1 , i2 , . . . , in } be a set of items. Let The details of the above algorithm can be found in [2].
DB be a set of transactions, where each transaction T is an
itemset such that T ⊆ I. Given an itemset X ⊆ I, a transaction
B. Secure Multi-party Computation
T contains X if and only if X ⊆ T . An association rule is
an implication of the form X ⇒ Y where X ⊆ I, Y ⊆ I and Substantial work has been done on secure multi-party com-
X ∩ Y = ∅. The rule X ⇒ Y has support s in the transaction putation. The key result is that a wide class of computations
database DB if s% of transactions in DB contain X ∪Y . The can be computed securely under reasonable assumptions. We
association rule holds in the transaction database DB with give a brief overview of this work, concentrating on material
confidence c if c% of transactions in DB that contain X also that is used later in the paper. The definitions given here are
contains Y. An itemset X with k items called k-itemset. The from Goldreich [9]. For simplicity, we concentrate on the two-
problem of mining association rules is to find all rules whose party case. Extending the definitions to the multi-party case is
support and confidence are higher than certain user specified straightforward.
minimum support and confidence. 1) Security in semi-honest model: A semi-honest party
In this simplified definition of the association rules, missing follows the rules of the protocol using its correct input, but is
items, negatives and quantities are not considered. In this free to later use what it sees during execution of the protocol
respect, transaction database DB can be seen as 0/1 matrix to compromise security. This is somewhat realistic in the real
where each column is an item and each row is a transaction. world because parties who want to mine data for their mutual
In this paper, we use this view of association rules. benefit will follow the protocol to get correct results. Also, a
1) Distributed Mining of Association Rules: The above protocol that is buried in large, complex software can not be
problem of mining association rules can be extended to easily altered.
distributed environments. Let us assume that a transaction A formal definition of private two-party computation in
database DB is horizontally partitioned among n sites (namely the semi-honest model is given below. Computing a function
S1 , S2 , . . . , Sn ) where DB = DB1 ∪ DB2 ∪ . . . ∪ DBn and privately is equivalent to computing it securely. The formal
DBi resides at side Si (1 ≤ i ≤ n). The itemset X has proof of this can be found in Goldreich [9].
local support count of X.supi at site Si if X.supi of the Definition 2.1: (privacy w.r.t. semi-honest behavior): [9]

Let f : {0, 1}∗ × {0, 1}∗ 7−→ {0, 1}∗ × {0, 1}∗ be prob- C. Commutative Encryption
abilistic, polynomial-time functionality, where f1 (x, y)(resp., Commutative encryption is an important tool that can be
f2 (x, y)) denotes the first (resp., second) element of f (x, y)) used in many privacy-preserving protocols. An encryption
and let Π be two-party protocol for computing f . algorithm is commutative if the following two equations hold
Let the view of the first (resp., second) party during for any given feasible encryption keys K1 , . . . , Kn ∈ K, any
an execution of Π on (x, y), denoted view1Π (x, y) m in items domain M , and any permutations of i, j.
(resp., view2Π (x, y)) be (x, r1 , m1 , . . . , mt ) (resp.,
(y, r2 , m1 , . . . , mt )) where r1 represent the outcome of EKi1 (. . . EKin (M ) . . .) = EKj1 (. . . EKjn (M ) . . .) (3)
the first (resp., r2 second) party’s internal coin tosses, and 1
∀M1 , M2 ∈ M such that M1 6= M2 and for given k,  <
mi represent the ith message it has received. 2k

The output of the first (resp., second) party during an P r(EKi1 (. . . EKin (M1 ) . . .) = EKj1 (. . . EKjn (M2 ) . . .)) < 
execution of Π on (x, y) is denoted outputΠ 1 (x, y) (resp., (4)
outputΠ 2 (x, y)) and is implicit in the party’s view of the These properties of commutative encryption can be used
execution. to check whether two items are equal without revealing them.
Π privately computes f if there exist probabilistic polyno- For example, assume that party A has item iA and party B has
mial time algorithms, denoted S1 , S2 such that item iB . To check if the items are equal, each party encrypts
its item and sends it to the other party: Party A sends EKA (iA )
{(S1 (x, f1 (x, y)) , f2 (x, y))}x,y∈{0,1}∗ ≡C to B and party B sends EKB (iB ) to A. Each party encrypts the
view1Π (x, y) , outputΠ received item with its own key, giving party A EKA (EKB (iB ))
2 (x, y) x,y∈{0,1}∗ (1)
and party B EKB (EKA (iA )). At this point, they can compare
the encrypted data. If the original items are the same, Equation
{(f1 (x, y) , S2 (x, f1 (x, y)))}x,y∈{0,1}∗ ≡C 3 ensures that they have the same encrypted value. If they are
different, Equation 4 ensure that with high probability they do
outputΠ Π
1 (x, y) , view2 (x, y) x,y∈{0,1}∗ (2)
not have the same encrypted value. During this comparison,
each site sees only the other site’s values in encrypted form.
where ≡C denotes computational indistinguishability.
In addition to meeting the above requirements, we require
The above definition says that a computation is secure if
that the encryption be secure. Specifically, the encrypted values
the view of each party during the execution of the protocol
of a set of items should reveal no information about the items
can be effectively simulated by the input and the output of
themselves. Consider the following experiment. For any two
the party. This is not quite the same as saying that private
sets of items, we encrypt each item of one randomly chosen
information is protected. For example, if two parties use a
set with the same key and present the resulting encrypted
secure protocol to mine distributed association rules, a secure
set and the initial two sets to a polynomial-time adversary.
protocol still reveals that if a particular rule is not supported by
Loosely speaking, our security assumption implies that this
a particular site, and that rule appears in the globally supported
polynomial-time adversary will not be able to predict which
rule set, then it must be supported by the other site. A site
of the two sets were encrypted with a probability better than
can deduce this information by solely looking at its locally
a random guess. Under this security assumption, it can be
supported rules and the globally supported rules. On the other
shown that resulting encrypted set is indistinguishable by a
hand, there is no way to deduce the exact support count of
polynomial adversary from a set of items that are randomly
some itemset by looking at the globally supported rules. With
chosen from the domain of the encryption; this fact is used in
three or more parties, knowing a rule holds globally reveals
the proof of the privacy-preserving properties of our protocol.
that at least one site supports it, but no site knows which site
The formal definition of multiple-message semantic security
(other than, obviously, itself). In summary, a secure multi-party
can be found in [13].
protocol will not reveal more information to a particular party
There are several examples of commutative encryption, per-
than the information that can be induced by looking at that
haps the most famous being RSA [14] (if keys are not shared).
party’s input and the output.
The appendix describes a how Pohlig-Hellman encryption [15]
2) Yao’s general two-party secure function evaluation: can be used to fulfill our requirements, as well as further
Yao’s general secure two-party evaluation is based on ex- discussion of relevant cryptographic details. The remainder of
pressing the function f (x, y) as a circuit and encrypting the this paper is based on the definitions given above, and does
gates for secure evaluation [11]. With this protocol, any two- not require a knowledge of the cryptographic discussion in the
party function can be evaluated securely in the semi-honest appendix.
model. To be efficiently evaluated, however, the functions
must have a small circuit representation. We will not give
details of this generic method, however we do use this generic III. S ECURE A SSOCIATION RULE M INING
results for securely finding whether a ≥ b (Yao’s millionaire We will now use the tools described above to construct a
problem). For comparing any two integers securely, Yao’s distributed association rule mining algorithm that preserves the
generic method is one of the most efficient methods known, privacy of individual site results. The algorithm given is for
although other asymptotically equivalent but practically more three or more parties – the difficulty with the two-party case
efficient algorithms could be used as well [12]. is discussed in Section V.

A. Problem Definition Clearly, Protocol 1 finds the union without revealing which
Let i ≥ 3 be the number of sites. Each site has a private itemset belongs to which site. It is not, however, secure under
transaction database DBi . We are given support threshold the definitions of secure multi-party computation. It reveals
s and confidence c as percentages. The goal is to discover the number of itemsets having common support between sites,
all association rules satisfying the thresholds, as defined in e.g., sites 3, 5, and 9 all support some itemset. It does not
Section II-A.1. We further desire that disclosure be limited: reveal which itemsets these are, but a truly secure computation
No site should be able to learn contents of a transaction at (as good as giving all input to a “trusted party”) could
any other site, what rules are supported by any other site, not reveal even this count. Allowing innocuous information
or the specific value of support/confidence for any rule at any leakage (the number of itemsets having common support)
other site, unless that information is revealed by knowledge of allows an algorithm that is sufficiently secure with much lower
one’s own data and the final result. E.g., if a rule is supported cost than a fully secure approach.
globally but not at one’s own site, we can deduce that at least If we deem leakage of the number of commonly supported
one other site support the rule. Here we assume no collusion itemsets as acceptable, we can prove that this method is secure
(this is discussed further in Section IV.) under the definitions of secure multi-party computation. The
idea behind the proof is to show that given the result, the
B. Method leaked information, and a site’s own input, a site can simulate
everything else seen during the protocol. Since the simulation
Our method follows the general approach of the FDM
generates everything seen during execution of the protocol, the
algorithm [2], with special protocols replacing the broadcasts
site clearly learns nothing new from the protocol beyond the
of LLi(k) and the support count of items in LL(k) . We first
input provided to the simulator. One key is that the simulator
give a method for finding the union of locally supported
does not need to generate exactly what is seen in any particular
itemsets without revealing the originator of the particular
run of the protocol. The exact content of messages passed
itemset. We then provide a method for securely testing if the
during the protocol is dependent on the random choice of keys;
support count exceeds the threshold.
the simulator must generate an equivalent distribution, based
1) Secure union of locally large itemsets: In the FDM
on random choices made by the simulator, to the distribution
algorithm (Section II-A.1), step 3 reveals the large itemsets
of messages seen in real executions of the protocol. A formal
supported by each site. To accomplish this without revealing
proof that this proof technique shows that a protocol preserves
what each site supports, we instead exchange locally large
privacy can be found in [9]. We use this approach to prove
itemsets in a way that obscures the source of each itemset.
that Protocol 1 reveals only the union of locally large itemsets
We assume a secure commutative encryption algorithm with
and a clearly bounded set of innocuous information.
negligible collision probability (Section II-C).
Theorem 3.1: Protocol 1 privately computes the union of
The main idea is that each site encrypts the locally supported
the locally large itemsets assuming no collusion, revealing at
itemsets, along with enough “fake” itemsets to hide the actual
most the result ∪N i=1 LLi(k) and:
number supported. Each site then encrypts the itemsets from
other sites. In Phases 2 and 3, the sets of encrypted itemsets 1) Size of intersection of locally supported itemsets be-
are merged. Since Equation 3 holds, duplicates in the locally tween any subset of odd numbered sites,
supported itemsets will be duplicates in the encrypted itemsets, 2) Size of intersection of locally supported itemsets be-
and can be deleted. The reason this occurs in two phases is tween any subset of even numbered sites, and
that if a site knows which fully encrypted itemsets come from 3) Number of itemsets supported by at least one odd and
which sites, it can compute the size of the intersection between one even site.
any set of sites. While generally innocuous, if it has this Proof: Phase 0: Since no communication occurs in Phase
information for itself, it can guess at the itemsets supported 0, each site can simulate its view by running the algorithm on
by other sites. Permuting the order after encryption in Phase its own input.
1 prevents knowing exactly which itemsets match, however Phase 1: At the first step, each site sees LLei−1(k) . The size
separately merging itemsets from odd and even sites in Phase of this set is the size of the global candidate set CG(k) , which
2 prevents any site from knowing the fully encrypted values is known to each site. Assuming the security of encryption,
of its own itemsets.1 Phase 4 decrypts the merged frequent each item in this set is computationally indistinguishable from
itemsets. Commutativity of encryption allows us to decrypt a number chosen from a uniform distribution. A site can
all itemsets in the same order regardless of the order they therefore simulate the set using a uniform random number
were encrypted in, preventing sites from tracking the source generator. This same argument holds for each subsequent
of each itemset. round.
The detailed algorithm is given in Protocol 1. In the protocol Phase 2: In Phase 2, site 0 gets the fully encrypted sets of
F represents the data that can be used as fake itemsets. itemsets from the other even sites. Assuming that each site
|LLei(k) | represents the set of the encrypted k itemsets at site knows the source of a received message, site 0 will know
i. Ei is the encryption and Di is the decryption by site i. which fully encrypted set LLe(k) contains encrypted itemsets
from which (odd) site. Equal itemsets will now be equal in
1 An alternative would be to use an anonymizing protocol [16] to send
encrypted form. Thus, site 0 learns if any odd sites had locally
all fully encrypted itemsets to Site 0, thus preventing Site 0 from knowing
which were it’s own itemsets. The separate odd/even merging is lower cost supported itemsets in common. We can still build a simulator
and achieves sufficient security for practical purposes. for this view, using the information in point 1 above. If there

are k itemsets known to be common among all bN/2c odd itemsets “leak” then becomes an upper bound rather than
sites (from point 1), generate k random numbers and put them exact, at an increased cost in the number of candidates that
into the simulated LLei(k) . Repeat for each bN/2c − 1 subset, must be checked for global support. While not truly zero-
etc., down to 2 subsets of the odd sites. Then fill each LLei(k) knowledge, it reduces the confidence (and usefulness) of the
with randomly chosen values until it reaches size |CGi(k) |. leaked knowledge of the number of jointly supported itemsets.
The generated sets will have exactly the same combinations In practical terms, revealing the size (but not content) of
of common items as the real sets, and since the values of the intersections between sites is likely to be of little concern.
items in the real sets are computationally indistinguishable 2) Testing support threshold without revealing support
from a uniform distribution, their simulation matches the real count: Protocol 1 gives the full set of locally large itemsets
values. LL(k) . We still need to determine which of these itemsets
The same argument holds for site 1, using information from are supported globally. Step 4 of the FDM algorithm forces
point 2 to generate the simulator. each site to reveal its own support count for every itemset in
Phase 3: Site 1 eliminates duplicates from the LLei(k) LL(k) . All we need to know is for each itemset X ∈ LL(k) ,
to generate RuleSet1. We now demonstrate that Site 0 can is X.sup ≥ s% × |DB|? The following allows us to reduce
simulate RuleSet1. First, the size of RuleSet1 can be sim- this to a comparison against a sum of local values (the excess
ulated knowing point 2. There may be itemsets in common support at each site):
between RuleSet0 and RuleSet1. These can be simulated n
using point 3: If there are k items in common between even
X.sup ≥ s ∗ |DB| = s ∗ ( |DBi |)
and odd sites, site 0 selects k random items from RuleSet0 i=1
and inserts them into RuleSet1. RuleSet1 is then filled with n
X Xn
randomly generated values. Since the encryption guarantees X.supi ≥ s∗( |DBi |)
that the values are computationally indistinguishable from a i=1 i=1
uniform distribution, and the set sizes |RuleSet0|, |RuleSet1|, X
and |RuleSet0 ∩RuleSet1| (and thus |RuleSet|) are identical (X.supi − s ∗ |DBi |) ≥ 0
in the simulation and real execution, this phase is secure.
Phase 4: Each site sees only the encrypted items after PTherefore,
checking for support is equivalent to checking if
decryption by the preceding site. Some of these may be i=1 (X.sup i − s ∗ |DBi |) ≥ 0. The challenge is to do this
identical to items seen in Phase 2, but since all items must without revealing X.supi or |DBi |. An algorithm for this is
be in the union, this reveals nothing. The simulator for site given in Protocol 2.
i is built as follows: take the values generated in Phase 2 The first site generates a random number xr for each itemset
step N − 1 − i, and place them in the RuleSet. Then insert X, adds that number to its (X.supi − s ∗ |DBi |), and sends
random values in RuleSet up to the proper size (calculated it to the next site. (All arithmetic is modm ≥ 2 ∗ |DB|, for
as in the simulator for Phase 3). The values we have not seen reasons that will become apparent later.) The random number
before are computationally indistinguishable from data from a masks the actual excess support, so the second site learns
uniform distribution, and the simulator includes the values we nothing about the first site’s actual database size or support.
have seen (and knew would be there), so the simulated view The second site adds its excess support and sends the value
is computationally indistinguishable from the real values. on. The random value now hides P both support counts. The last
The simulator for site N − 1 is different, since it learns site in the change now has ni=1 (X.supi − s ∗ |DBi |) + xr
RuleSet(k). To simulate what it sees in Phase 4, site N − 1 (mod m). Since the total database size |DB| ≤ m/2, negative
takes each item in RuleSet(k) , the final result, and encrypts summation will be mapped to some number that is bigger then
it with EN −1 . These are placed in RuleSet. RuleSet is then or equal to m/2. (−k = m − k mod m.) The last site needs
filled with items chosen from F , also encrypted with EN −1 . to test if this sum minus xr (mod m) is less then m/2. This
Since the choice of items from F is random in both the real can be done securely using Yao’s generic method [11]. Clearly
and simulated execution, and the real items exactly match this algorithm is secure as long as there is no collusion, as no
in the real and simulation, the RuleSet site N − 1 receives site can distinguish what it receives from a random number.
in Phase 4 is computationally indistinguishable from the real Alternatively, the first site can simply send xr to the last site.
execution. The last site learns the actual excess support, but does not
Therefore, we can conclude that above protocol is privacy- learn the support values for any single site. In addition, if we
preserving in the semi-honest model with the stated assump- consider the excess support to be a valid part of the global
tions. result, this method is still secure.
The information disclosed by points 1-3 could be relaxed to Theorem 3.2: Protocol 2 privately computes globally sup-
the number of itemsets support by 1 site, 2 sites, ..., N sites ported itemsets in the semi-honest model.
if we assume anonymous message transmission. The number Proof: To show that Protocol 2 is secure under the
of jointly supported itemsets can also be masked by allowing semi-honest model, we have to show that a polynomial time
sites to inject itemsets that are not really supported locally. simulator can simulate the view of the parties during the
These fake itemsets will simply fail to be globally supported, execution of the protocol, based on their local inputs and the
and will be filtered from the final result when global support is global result. We also use the general composition theorem
calculated as shown in the next section. The jointly supported for semi-honest computation [9]. The theorem says that if g

securely reduces to f , and f is computed securely, then the |LLi(k) |, then site i has learned a subset of the itemsets at site
computation of f (g) is secure. In our context, f is the secure i + 1.
comparison of two integers, and g is Protocol 2. First, we Collusion can be a problem for our second protocol, because
show that the view of any site during the addition phase can site i + 1 and site i − 1 can collude to reveal site i’s
be efficiently simulated given the input of that site and the excess support value. This protocol can be made resilient
global output. Site i uniformly chooses a random integer sr , against collusions using a straightforward technique from the
0 ≤ sr < m. Next, we show that view and the output of the cryptographic community. The basic idea is each party divides
simulator are computationally indistinguishable by showing its input into n parts, and send the n − 1 pieces to different
that the probability of seeing a given x in both is equal. In sites. To reveal any parties input, n − 1 party must collude.
the following equations, xr is the random number added at The following is a brief summary of the protocol, details can
the beginning of Protocol 2, 0 ≤ Xr < m. The arithmetic be found in [17]. (A slightly more efficient version can be
is assumed to be mod m. Also note that X.supi is fixed for found in [18].)
each site. 1) PEach site i randomly chooses n elements such that xi =
j=1 zi,j mod m where xi is the input of site i. Site i
k=i−1 sends zi,j to site j.
" #
P r V IEWiP rotocol2 = x = P r xr = x − 2) Every site i computes wi = nj=1 zj,i mod m and sends
k=1 wi to site n. Pn
1 3) Site n computes the final result i=1 wi mod m
m The above protocol can easily be used to improve our
= P r [sr = x] second protocol. Assume site 0 is the starting site in our
= P r [Simulatori = x] protocol and site N − 1 is the last site. Choose m such that
2 ∗ |DB| ≤ m. Set x1 = X.sup1 − s ∗ d1 + xr mod m and
Therefore, what each site sees during the addition phase is
xi = X.supi − s ∗ di mod m, i 6=P1. After this point, the
indistinguishable from that simulated with a random number
above protocol can be used to find ni=1 (X.supi − s ∗ di ) +
generator. During the comparison phase we can use the generic
xr mod m. At the end, one secure addition and comparison
secure method, so from the composition theorem we conclude
is done as in Protocol 2 to check if itemset X is globally
that Protocol 2 is secure in the semi-honest model.

C. Securely Finding Confidence of a Rule V. D IFFICULTIES WITH THE T WO -PARTY C ASE

To find if the confidence of a rule X ⇒ Y is higher
The two party case is problematic. First, globally supported
than the given confidence threshold c, we have to check if itemsets that are not supported at one site are known to be
{X∪Y }.sup
Y.sup ≥ c. Protocol 2 only reveals if an itemset is supported at the other site – this is an artifact of the result.
supported, it does not reveal the support count. The following Protocol 1 is worse yet, as itemsets that are supported at
equations show how to securely compute if confidence exceeds one site but not supported globally will become known to
a threshold using Protocol 2. The support of {X ∪ Y } .supi the other site. To retain any privacy, we must dispense with
is denoted as XY.supi . local pruning entirely (steps 1 and 2 of the FDM algorithm)
{X ∪ Y } .sup XY.supi and compute support for all candidates in CG(k) (as computed
≥ c ⇒ Pi=1 i=n
≥c from L(k−1) ). Second, the secure comparison phase at the end
Y.sup i=1 X.supi of the protocol 2 cannot be removed, as otherwise the support
i=n i=n
X X of one site is disclosed to the other. It is difficult to improve
⇒ XY.supi ≥ c ∗ ( X.supi )
on this, as evidenced by the following theorem.
i=1 i=1
i=n Theorem 5.1: For itemset X, to check whether
X.sup1 +X.sup2
≥ k can be securely computed if and
⇒ (XY.supi − c ∗ X.supi ) ≥ 0 d1 +d2
i=1 only if Yao’s millionaire problem securely solved for arbitrary
a and b.
Since each site knows XY.supi and X.supi , we can easily
use Protocol 2 to securely calculate the confidence of a rule.
Proof: Checking X.supd11 +X.sup
≥ k is equivalent to
checking (X.sup1 − k ∗ d1 ) ≥ (k ∗ d2 − X.sup2 ). If we have
IV. S ECURITY AGAINST COLLUSION a = X.sup1 − k ∗ d1 and b = k ∗ d2 − X.sup2 , we have an
Collusion in Protocol 1 could allow a site to know its own instance of Yao’s millionaire problem for a and b. Assume we
frequent itemsets after encryption by all parties. Using this, it have a secure protocol that computes whether X is supported
can learn the size of the intersection between its own itemsets globally or not for arbitrary X.sup1 , X.sup2 , d1 , d2 and k.
and those of another party. Specifically, if site i colludes with Take X.sup1 = 3a, d1 = 4a, X.sup2 = b, d2 = 4 ∗ b and
site i − 1, it can learn the size of its intersection with site i + 1. k = 0.5. This is equivalent to checking whether a ≥ b.
Collusion between sites 0 and 1 exacerbates the problem, as The above theorem implies that if we develop a method that
they know encrypted values of itemsets for all odd (even) sites. can check securely if an itemset is globally supported for the
This may reveal the actual itemsets; if |LLi(k) ∩ LLi+1(k) | = two party case in semi-honest model, it is equivalent to finding

a new solution to Yao’s millionaire problem. This problem is final secure comparison requires a computation cost of O(| ∪i
well studied in cryptography and to our knowledge, there is LLi(k) | ∗ m ∗ t3 ).
no significantly faster way for arbitrary a and b than using the As discussed in Section V, using only Protocol 2 directly
generic circuit evaluation solution. on CG(k) is fully secure assuming the desired result includes
It is worth noting that eliminating local pruning and using all globally large itemsets. The communication costs becomes
Protocol 2 to compute the global support of all candidates in O(m ∗ |CG(k) | ∗ N ), but because the communication in
CG(k) is secure under the definitions of secure multi-party Protocol 2 is sequential the communication time is roughly
computation, for two or more parties. The problem with the the same as the full protocol. The encryption portion of the
two-party case is that knowing a rule is supported globally computation cost becomes O(|CG(k) | ∗ m ∗ t3 ) for the secure
that is not supported at one’s own site reveals that the other comparison at the end of the protocol. However, there is a
site supports that rule. This is true no matter how secure substantial added cost in computing the support, as we must
computation, it is an artifact of the result. Thus, extending compute support for all |CG(k) | itemsets. This is generally
to secure computation in the two party case is unlikely to be much greater than the |CGi(k) ∪ (∪i LLi(k) )| required under
of use. the full algorithm (or FDM), as shown in [3]. It is reasonable
to expect that this cost will dominate the other costs, as it is
We now give cost estimates for association rule mining
using the method we have presented. The number of sites is A. Optimizations and Further Discussion
N . Let the total number of locally large candidate itemsets be The cost of “padding” LLei(k) from F to avoid disclosing
|CGi(k) |, and the number of candidates that can be directly the number of local itemsets supported can add significantly to
generated by the globally large (k-1) itemsets be |CG(k) | the communication and encryption costs. In practice, for k >
(= apriori gen(L(k−1) )). The excess support X.supi − |DBi | 1, |CG(k) | is likely to be of reasonable size. However, |CG(1) |
of an itemset X can be represented in m = dlog2 (2 ∗ |DB|)e could be very large, as it is dependent only on the size of the
bits. Let t be the number of bits in the output of the encryption domain of items, and is not limited by already discovered
of an itemset. A lower bound on t is log2 (|CG(k) |); based on frequent itemsets. If the participants can agree on an upper
current encryption standards t = 512 is a more appropriate bound on the number of frequent items supported at any one
value.2 site that is tighter than “every item may be frequent” without
The total bit-communication cost for Protocol 1 is O(t ∗ inspecting the data, we can achieve a corresponding decrease
|CG(k) | ∗ N 2 ), however, as much of this happens in parallel in the costs with no loss of security. This is likely to be feasible
we can divide by N to get an estimate of the communication in practice; the very success of the a-priori algorithm is based
time. For comparison, the FDM algorithm requires O(t ∗ | ∪i on the assumption that relatively few items are frequent.
LLi(k) | ∗ N ) for the corresponding steps, with effectively the Alternatively, if we are willing to leak an upper bound on the
same reduction in time due to parallelism (achieved through number of itemsets supported at each site, each site can set its
broadcast as opposed to simultaneous point-to-point transmis- own upper bound and pad only to that bound. This can be done
sions). The added cost of Protocol 1 is due to padding LLei(k) for every round, not just k = 1. As a practical matter, such an
to hide the actual number of local itemsets supported, and the approach would achieve acceptable security and would change
increase in bits required to represent encrypted itemsets. The the |CG(k) | factor in the communication and encryption costs
worst-case value for |CG(k) | is item domain k
size, however,
of Protocol 1 to O(| ∪i LLi(k) |), equivalent to FDM.
the optimizations that make the a-priori algorithm effective Another way to limit the encryption cost of padding is to
in practice would fail for such large |CG(k) |. In practice, pad randomly from the domain of the encryption output rather
only in the first round (k = 1) will this padding pose a than encrypting items from F . Assuming |domainof Ei | >>
high cost; |CG(1) | = the size of the domain of items. In |domainof itemsets|, the probability of padding with a value
later iterations, the size of |CG(k) | will be much closer to that decrypts to a real itemset is small, and even if this occurs
|LLei(k) |. The computation cost increase due to encryption it will only result in additional itemset being tested for support
is O(t3 ∗ |CG(k) | ∗ N 2 ), where t is the number of bits in the in Protocol 2. When the support count is tested, such “false
encryption key. Here t3 represents the bit-wise cost of modular hits” will be filtered out, and the final result will be correct.
exponentiation. The comparison phase at the end of protocol 2 can be
Protocol 2 requires O(m ∗ | ∪i LLi(k) | ∗ (N + t)) bits also removed, eliminating the O(m ∗ | ∪i LLi(k) | ∗ t) bits
of communication. The t factor is for the secure circuit of communication and O(| ∪i LLi(k) | ∗ m ∗ t3 ) encryption
evaluations between sites N − 1 and 0 required to determine if cost. This reveals the excess support for each itemset. Practical
each itemset is supported. FDM actually requires an additional applications may demand this count as part of the result for
factor of N due to the broadcast of local support instead of globally supported itemsets, so the only information leaked is
point-to-point communication. However, the broadcast results the support counts for itemsets in ∪i LLi(k) − L(k) . As these
in a single round instead of N rounds of our method. The cannot be traced to an individual site, this will generally be
2 item domain size acceptable in practice.
The worst-case bound on |CG(k) | is k
. t = 512 can
represent such worst-case itemsets for 50 million possible items and k = 20, The cost estimates are based on the assumption that all
adequate for most practical cases. frequent itemsets (even 1-itemsets) are part of the result. If

exposing the globally frequent 1-itemsets is a problem, the given procedures to mine distributed association rules on
algorithm could easily begin with 2-itemsets (or larger). While horizontally partitioned data. We have shown that distributed
the worst-case cost would be unchanged, there would be an association rule mining can be done efficiently under reason-
impact in practical terms. Eliminating the pruning of globally able security assumptions.
infrequent 1-itemsets would increase the size of CGi(2) and We believe the need for mining of data where access is
thus LLi(2) , however, local pruning of infrequent 1-itemsets restricted by privacy concerns will increase. Examples include
should make the sizes manageable. More critical is the impact knowledge discovery among intelligence services of differ-
on |CG(2) |, and thus the cost of padding to hide the number ent countries and collaboration among corporations without
of locally large itemsets. In practice, the size of CG(2) will revealing trade secrets. Even within a single multi-national
rarely be the theoretical limit of item domain
size, but this company, privacy laws in different jurisdictions may prevent
worst-case bound would need to be used if the algorithm began sharing individual data. Many more examples can be imagined.
with finding 2-itemsets (the problem is worse for k > 2). A We would like to see secure algorithms for classification,
practical solution would again be to have sites agree on a clustering, etc. Another possibility is secure approximate data
reasonable upper bound for the number of locally supported mining algorithms. Allowing error in the results may enable
k-itemsets for the initial k, revealing some information to more efficient algorithms that maintain the desired level of
substantially decrease the amount of padding needed. security.
The secure multi-party computation definitions from the
cryptography domain may be too restrictive for our purposes.
B. Practical Cost of Encryption
A specific example of the need for more flexible definitions
While achieving privacy comes at a reasonable increase in can be seen in Protocol 1. The “padding” set F is defined to be
communication cost, what about the cost of encryption? As a infinite, so that the probability of collision among these items
test of this, we implemented Pohlig-Hellman, described in the is 0. This is impractical, and intuitively allowing collisions
appendix. The encryption time per itemset represented with among the padded itemsets would seem more secure, as the
t = 512 bits was 0.00428 seconds on a 700MHz Pentium 3 information leaked (itemsets supported in common by subsets
under Linux. Using this, and the results for the reported in [3], of the sites) would become an upper bound rather than an exact
we can estimate the cost of privacy-preserving association rule value. However, unless we know in advance the probability of
mining on the tests in [3]. collision among real itemsets, or more specifically we can set
The first set of experiments described in [3] contain suffi- the size of F so the ratio of the collision probabilities in F
cient detail for us to estimate the cost of encryption. These and real itemsets is constant, the protocol is less secure under
experiments used three sites, an item domain size of 1000, secure multi-party communication definitions. The problem is
and a total database size of 500k transactions. that knowing the probability of collision among items chosen
The encryption cost for the initial round (k = 1) would from F enables us to predict (although generally with low
be 4.28 seconds at each site, as the padding need only be to accuracy) which fully encrypted itemsets are real and which
the domain size of 1000. While finding two-itemsets could are fake. This allows a probabilistic upper bound estimate on
potentially be much worse ( 1000

2 = 499500), in practice the number of itemsets supported at each site. It also allows a
|CG(2) | is much smaller. The
P experiment in [3] reports a total probabilistic estimate of the number of itemsets supported in
number of candidate sets ( k>1 |CG(k) |) of just over 100,000 common by subsets of the sites that is tighter than the number
at 1% support. This gives a total encryption cost of around of collisions found in the RuleSet. Definitions that allow us
430 seconds per site, with all sites encrypting simultaneously. to trade off such estimates, and techniques to prove protocols
This assumes none of the optimizations of Section VI-A; relative to those definitions, will allow us to prove the privacy
if the encryption cost at each site could be cut to |LLi(k) | of protocols that are practically superior to protocols meeting
by eliminating the cost of encrypting the padding items, the strict secure multi-party computation definitions.
encryption cost would be cut to 5% to 35% of the above on More suitable security definitions that allow parties to
the datasets used in [3]. choose their desired level of security are needed, allowing
There is also the encryption cost of the secure comparison efficient solutions that maintain the desired security. Some
at the end of Protocol 2. Although the data reported in [3] suggested directions for research in this area are given in [19].
does not give us the exact size of ∪i LLi(k) , it appears to be One line of research is to predict the value of information for
on the order of 2000. Based on this, the cost of the secure a particular organization, allowing tradeoff between disclosure
comparison, O(| ∪i LLi(k) | ∗ m ∗ t3 ), would be about 170 cost, computation cost, and benefit from the result. We believe
seconds. some ideas from game theory and economics may be relevant.
The total execution time for the experiment reported in In summary, it is possible to mine globally valid results
[3] was approximately 800 seconds. Similar numbers hold at from distributed data without revealing information that com-
different support levels; the added cost of encryption would at promises the privacy of the individual sources. Such privacy-
worst increase the total run time by roughly 75%. preserving data mining can be done with a reasonable increase
in cost over methods that do not maintain privacy. Continued
VII. C ONCLUSIONS AND F URTHER W ORK research will expand the scope of privacy-preserving data
Cryptographic tools can enable data mining that would mining, enabling most or all data mining methods to be applied
otherwise be prevented due to security concerns. We have in situations where privacy concerns would appear to restrict

such mining. We present the approach from [20] as an example; any

secure encryption scheme that satisfies Equations 3 and 4
A PPENDIX can be used in our protocols. The above approach is used to
C RYPTOGRAPHIC N OTES ON C OMMUTATIVE E NCRYPTION generate the cost estimates in Section VI-B. Other approaches,
and further definitions and discussion of their security, can be
The Pohlig-Hellman encryption scheme [15] can be used for
found in [21]–[24].
a commutative encryption scheme meeting the requirements
of Section II-C. Pohlig-Hellman works as follows. Given a
large prime p with no small factors of p − 1, each party ACKNOWLEDGMENT
chooses a random e, d pair such that e ∗ d = 1 (mod p − 1). We wish to acknowledge the contributions of Mike Atallah
The encryption of a given message M is M e (mod p). and Jaideep Vaidya. Discussions with them have helped to
Decryption of a given ciphertext C is done by evaluating C d tighten the proofs, giving clear bounds on the information
(mod p). C d = M ed (mod p), and due to Fermat’s little released.
theorem, M ed = M 1+k(p−1) = M (mod p).
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285. [Online]. Available: Phase 1: Encryption by all sites
[22] W. Diffie and M. Hellman, “New directions in cryptography,” IEEE for Round j = 0 to N − 1 do
Trans. Inform. Theory, vol. IT-22, no. 6, pp. 644–654, Nov. 1976. if Round j= 0 then
[23] T. ElGamal, “A public key cryptosystem and a signature scheme based Each site i sends permuted LLei(k) to site (i + 1) mod
on discrete logarithms,” IEEE Trans. Inform. Theory, vol. IT-31, no. 4,
pp. 469–472, July 1985. N
[24] A. Shamir, R. L. Rivest, and L. M. Adleman, “Mental poker,” Laboratory else
for Computer Science, MIT, Technical Memo MIT-LCS-TM-125, Feb. Each site i encrypts all items in LLe(i−j mod N )(k)
with Ei , permutes, and sends it to site (i + 1) mod N
end if
end for{At the end of Phase 1, site i has the itemsets of
site (i + 1) mod N encrypted by every site}

Phase 2: Merge odd/even itemsets

Murat Kantarcıoǧlu is a Ph.D. candidate at Purdue
University. He has a Master’s degree in Computer
Each site i sends LLei+1 mod N to site i mod 2
d(N −1)/2e
Science from Purdue University and a Bachelor’s Site 0 sets RuleSet1 = ∪j=1 LLe(2j−1)(k)
degree in Computer Engineering from Middle East b(N −1)/2c
Technical University, Ankara Turkey. His research Site 1 sets RuleSet0 = ∪j=0 LLe(2j)(k)
interests include data mining, database security and
information security. He is a student member of Phase 3: Merge all itemsets
Site 1 sends permuted RuleSet1 to site 0
Site 0 sets RuleSet = RuleSet0 ∪ RuleSet1

Phase 4: Decryption
for i = 0 to N − 1 do
Site i decrypts items in RuleSet using Di
Site i sends permuted RuleSet to site i + 1 mod N
Chris Clifton is an Associate Professor of Computer end for
Science at Purdue University. He has a Ph.D. from Site N − 1 decrypts items in RuleSet using DN −1
Princeton University, and Bachelor’s and Master’s
degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technol- RuleSet(k) = RuleSet − F
ogy. Prior to joining Purdue he held positions at The Site N − 1 broadcasts RuleSet(k) to sites 0..N − 2
MITRE Corporation and Northwestern University.
His research interests include data mining, database
support for text, and database security. He is a senior
member of the IEEE and a member of the IEEE
Computer Society and the ACM.

Protocol 2 Finding the global support counts securely

Require: N ≥ 3 sites numbered 0..N − 1, m ≥ 2 ∗ |DB|
rule set = ∅
at site 0:
for each r ∈ candidate set do
choose random integer xr from a uniform distribution
over 0..m − 1;
t = r.supi − s ∗ |DBi | + xr (mod m);
rule set = rule set ∪ {(r, t)};
end for
send rule set to site 1 ;
for i = 1 to N − 2 do
for each (r, t) ∈ rule set do
t̄ = r.supi − s ∗ |DBi | + t (mod m);
rule set = rule set − {(r, t)} ∪ {(r, t̄)} ;
end for
send rule set to site i + 1 ;
end for
at site N-1:
for each (r, t) ∈ rule set do
t̄ = r.supi − s ∗ |DBi | + t (mod m);
securely compute if (t̄ − xr ) (mod m) < m/2 with the
site 0; { Site 0 knows xr }
if (t̄ − xr ) (mod m) < m/2 then
multi-cast r as a globally large itemset.
end if
end for