A project conducted by researchers from the UC Berkeley-affiliated International Computer Science Institute, UC San Diego and George Mason University has received a $10 million, five-year grant from the National Science Foundation to study social and economic issues connected to cybercrime.
While much of cyber-security research focuses on the technological side of attacks, Beyond Technical Security: Developing an Empirical Basis for Socio-Economic Perspectives will take an interdisciplinary look into cybercriminals — how they work with each other, the marketplaces that they work in and the profit they gain.
“Instead of focusing on the technical medium, we’re focusing on the human aspect — what motivates them economically, their interactions in cyberspace, how they establish trust, as well as how to undermine cybercrime at this level by gaining a level understating,” said Damon McCoy, a principal investigator on the project and an assistant professor at GMU.
The group’s research was originally driven more by technology and computer science but has become increasingly interdisciplinary over time, McCoy said.
“In roughly 2007 we started to focus on the economic questions because we were a bit frustrated that simply addressing the technical issues didn’t seem to be having much practical impact,” said Stefan Savage, one of the principal investigators and a professor at UCSD. “I was influenced at the time by a book on the drug war illustrating the limitations of a policy focus.”
The researchers from the ICSI and UCSD have been working together since the first big Internet worm outbreaks, Savage said. McCoy worked with the group as a postdoctoral student at UCSD and is continuing with the research at GMU.
Over 70 research proposals have been funded by $50 million in awards through the NSF’s Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace program, which gave awards to selected proposals ranging from $100,000 to $10 million, according to an NSF press release about the awards.
The project also receives support from corporate sponsors interested in improving Internet security, McCoy said.
“It’s important to get at the heart of why criminals engage in cybercrime,” said NSF spokesperson Lisa-Joy Zgorski. “The research is looking at the economic incentives, which is core to being able to making cyberspace more safe and secure so that commerce in America can thrive.”
The Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace Program’s general goal is to improve online security, according to McCoy.
The Beyond Technical Security project is one of two recipients of Frontier Awards funded by the Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace program, which are awarded to top research institutions. The other was Harvard University’s “Privacy Tools for Sharing Research Data” project, which received almost $5 million to work on ways to collect and share data while maintaining privacy.