The US National Science Foundation is providing a a $10 million, five-year grant to University of California, San Diego, the International Computer Science Institute at Berkeley and George Mason University to map out illicit activities taking place in the cybersecurity underworld and to understand how the mind of a cybercriminal works.
''Fighting cyber threats requires more than just understanding technologies and the risks they're associated with; it requires understanding human nature,'' said Stefan Savage, a professor of computer science at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego, and one of the lead researchers on the grant. ''At its heart, cyber security is a human issue. It's about conflict, and computers are merely the medium where this conflict takes place.''
Among their goals, the researchers will investigate how criminals make money, their economic and social relationships, and the various ways they interact with victims and defenders to achieve their goals.
The researchers hope that by better understanding these dynamics, they will be able to identify the best opportunities for interventions and defenses against cybercrime.
Economics come to the forefront in understanding how the world of modern cybercrime works, including the motives behind the vast majority of Internet attacks, and the elaborate marketplaces that support them. Social interactions are key to understanding how venues such as Facebook and Twitter present new opportunities for attacks and manipulation, and to understanding the relationships among cybercriminals, who heavily rely upon one another for services and know-how.
Savage will work with six other UC San Diego researchers, including social scientist James Fowler, best known for his work on social contagion. The basic idea for this project is that technological security depends on the human factor, Fowler said. ''I love that engineers and computer scientists are acknowledging that security depends as much on human behaviour as it does on technology,'' he said. ''I look forward to working with them to help tackle these problems.''