Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Computer and Information Science

First Advisor

Boon Thau Loo


Operators of distributed systems often find themselves needing to answer forensic questions, to perform a variety of managerial tasks including fault detection, system debugging, accountability enforcement, and attack analysis. In this dissertation, we present Secure Time-Aware Provenance (STAP), a novel approach that provides the fundamental functionality required to answer such forensic questions -- the capability to "explain" the existence (or change) of a certain distributed system state at a given time in a potentially adversarial environment.

This dissertation makes the following contributions. First, we propose the STAP model, to explicitly represent time and state changes. The STAP model allows consistent and complete explanations of system state (and changes) in dynamic environments. Second, we show that it is both possible and practical to efficiently and scalably maintain and query provenance in a distributed fashion, where provenance maintenance and querying are modeled as recursive continuous queries over distributed relations. Third, we present security extensions that allow operators to reliably query provenance information in adversarial environments. Our extensions incorporate tamper-evident properties that guarantee eventual detection of compromised nodes that lie or falsely implicate correct nodes. Finally, the proposed research results in a proof-of-concept prototype, which includes a declarative query language for specifying a range of useful provenance queries, an interactive exploration tool, and a distributed provenance engine for operators to conduct analysis of their distributed systems. We discuss the applicability of this tool in several use cases, including Internet routing, overlay routing, and cloud data processing.