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Grant to Fund Study of Cyber Crime Economics, Networks

Police crime scene tape (Michael Melchiorre/Flickr)Computer scientists at University of California in San Diego, University of California in Berkeley, and George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia received a National Science Foundation grant to better understand the economics and network dynamics of cyber crime. The five-year, $10 million study will investigate economic motivations and social interactions among cyber criminals, as well as their technology.

The research will examine ways criminals make money, their economic and social relationships, and their interactions with victims and defenders to achieve their goals. The study covers four main areas:

Economics of electronic crime. Researchers will examine cyber criminal money-making schemes, including their use of spam and search engine abuse, as well as theft of user data, such as financial account credentials. They study will also look into the cyber criminal infrastructure, including phishing kits, malware distribution, and botnets.

Role of online social networks. The team  will map out the ecosystem of attackers that prey in social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, and the use of social manipulation in their activities. The researchers will then investigate ways unsafe online behavior is learned and transmitted through online social networks and show how their findings can help improve online safety.

Underground social networks. The study will examine the ways relationships among criminals are established, maintained, and evolve. The team also plans to study the processes cyber criminals use to become masterminds, from starting out as novices. The research also plans to examine the process of generating and spreading new ideas in the cyber crime underground, as well as managing trust in cyber criminal relationships.

Security effectiveness. The researchers plan to study various security practices — such as defenses, interventions, and educational strategies — and their actual outcomes in thwarting cyber attacks.

“At its heart, cyber security is a human issue,” says  Stefan Savage, a professor of computer science at the UC San Diego engineering school, and one of the lead researchers on the grant. “It’s about conflict, and computers are merely the medium where this conflict takes place.” Savage will work with six colleagues from UC San Diego, as well as a team at International Computer Science Institute, a part of UC Berkeley, led by computer science professor Vern Paxson, and with Damon McCoy, UC San Diego alumnus and now a faculty member at George Mason University.

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Photo: Michael Melchiorre/Flickr

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