Dean's Blog: Cybersecurity

February 8, 2019 - Dean Rachel Croson



Since the early 80s, much of our personal and financial lives has moved online. From keeping up with friends to making bank deposits, computer-mediated activity has become a fact of life. As more and more activity has moved online, criminals seeking financial or other advantage have followed. Thus was born the need for cybersecurity.

While advances continue to be made on the technical side of cybersecurity, this field can take on the characteristics of a Red Queen’s Race. Hackers gain access, security experts develop protection or a patch, and hackers work around the protection to find another access point. While this type of protective activity is pivotal, it is not sufficient.

Researchers in the College of Social Science use their expertise to find other mechanisms to stop cybercriminals, increasing our understanding of the social side of cybersecurity. For example, Dr. Tom Holt in the School of Criminal Justice has conducted research on the markets for cybercriminals; how they acquire the tools they need to hack into accounts, and how they turn stolen information into money (see references at the end for more detail).

In more recent research, Holt has focused on understanding motivations of hackers in order to reduce the likelihood of attacks. Malware, for example, is thought to be a technical problem requiring only a technical solution, such as antivirus software. It is people, however, who create malicious code, and Holt studies the motivations and choices of those people. For example, in one recent paper, Holt found an increase in cyberattacks during periods of decreased physical violence, suggesting that terrorists are making decisions between the two modes of attack.

I encourage you to read about some of Holt’s latest research on how cyber threats are more destructive than ever before. Some papers can be found below, and a summary of his work here.

The College of Social Science sponsors the yearly Interdisciplinary Conference on Cybercrime, which covers this topic as well as many others. The conference draws world class technical and social researchers together to promote collaboration between the disciplines on topics related to cybercrime. The conference includes researchers, industry leaders and policy makers to draw on insights from all sectors and to ensure that the research being done is impactful.  You can learn more about past conferences here and the upcoming 6th annual conference here.

Our world is ready to change again. With the advent of self-driving cars, smart energy grids, and smart homes, most of the internet traffic will soon be machine-to-machine (like your refrigerator communicating with your Amazon grocery order), rather than human-to-human via a device. The cybersecurity implications of this change are astounding; when a hacker can unlock your home’s doors or hijack your car as it is driving itself, these represent very different threats than those we have previously faced. Privacy concerns are also heightened in this new world; who will have access to the data that your “things” generate? These questions cannot be decided technically; social science has an important role to play in identifying what kind of world we want to live in and  addressing these new cybersecurity threats.

The College of Social Science is transforming the human experience by enhancing our safety online and in person.


Sincerely yours,

Dean Rachel T.A. Croson


For further reading: