Computer Science Prof Zubair Shafiq wins NSF SaTC grant

Friday, August 18, 2017
Zubair Shafiq
Zubair Shafiq

Computer Science Professor Zubair Shafiq has been awarded a $250,000 National Science Foundation Security and Trustworthy Cyberspace (SaTC) grant for his project, "The Web Ad Technology Arms Race: Measurement, Analysis, and Countermeasures."

From the abstract:

“Online advertising plays a critical role in allowing a vast majority of web content to be offered free of charge to users, with the implicit quid pro quo agreement that users agree to watch targeted ads to support these "free" services. Unfortunately, the economic magnetism of online advertising has made it an attractive target for various types of abuses. For instance, online advertising incentivizes the widespread tracking of users across websites raising privacy and surveillance concerns. Malvertising is another serious security threat to users. As a result, ad-blockers are gaining popularity because they not only provide a clean browsing experience but also protect user security and privacy.

The research is motivated by the observation that websites are now starting an arms race to fight against ad-blockers that cause significant revenue loss to the publishers. Publishers use anti ad-blockers to detect the presence of ad-blockers and react in certain ways (e.g., reminding users to turn off ad-blockers). Specifically, the research will be primarily focused on two fronts: (1) Measuring the arms race between ad-blockers and anti ad-blockers, e.g., developing techniques to detect anti ad-blockers. (2) Understanding the technological means of anti ad-blockers and possible countermeasures that may follow on the ad-blocker side. The proposed research will inform industry stakeholders and policymakers.”

Shafiq is an assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science, part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. He is also part of the Iowa Informatics Initiative.


The College of Liberal Arts & Sciences at the University of Iowa is a comprehensive college offering 67 majors in the humanities; fine, performing and literary arts; natural and mathematical sciences; social and behavioral sciences; and communication disciplines. More than 17,000 undergraduate and 2,200 graduate students study each year in the College’s 39 departments, led by professors at the forefront of teaching and research in their disciplines. The college teaches all UI undergraduates through the General Education Program, and confers about 70 percent of the UI's bachelor's degrees each academic year.