Cyber-crime Victims Often Provide Access Unwittingly: Report

By Nathan Eddy  |  Print this article Print

A study shows the human aspect needs to be included in security studies, where humans are the "weakest link."

In a unique collaboration, an engineer and a criminologist at the University of Maryland, College Park, are applying criminological concepts and research methods in the study of cyber-crime, leading to recommendations for IT managers to use in the prevention of cyber-attacks on their networks.

In one study that focused on the victims of cyber-attacks, the researchers analyzed data made available by the university's Office of Information Technology, which included instances of computer exploits, illegal computer port scans and Denial of Service (DoS) attacks. Applying criminological rationale proposed by the "Routine Activities Perspective," Michel Cukier, associate professor of reliability engineering at the A. James Clark School of Engineering and Institute for Systems Research, and David Maimon, assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice in the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, analyzed computer focused crime trends between the years 2007-2009 against the university network.

According to this perspective, which is designed to understand criminal victimization trends, successful criminal incidents are the consequence of the convergence in space and time of motivated offenders, suitable victims and the absence of capable guardians. The researchers hypothesized that the campus would be more likely to be cyber-attacked during business hours than during down times like after midnight and on weekends. Their study of the campus data confirmed their theories.

The research team is studying cyber-attacks from two different angles - that of the user and that of the attacker. Both are members of the Maryland Cybersecurity Center. Their work is thought to be one of the first looks at the relationship between computer-network activity patterns and computer-focused crime trends. "We believe that criminological insights in the study of cyber-crime are important, since they may support the development of concrete security policies that consider not only the technical element of cyber-crime but also the human component," Maimon said. "Our analysis demonstrates that computer-focused crimes are more frequent during times of day that computer users are using their networked computers to engage in their daily working and studying routines."

Cukier and Maimon said the results of their research point to the following potential solutions, including increased education and awareness of the risks associated with computer-assisted and computer-focused crimes among network users could prevent future attacks, and said further defense strategies should rely on predictions regarding the sources of attacks, based on the network users' social backgrounds and online routines.

"Users expose the network to attacks. Simply by browsing sites on the Web, Internet users make their computers' IP addresses and ports visible to possible attackers, so the users' behavior does reflect on the entire organization's security," Cukier said. "The study shows that the human aspect needs to be included in security studies, where humans are already referred as the 'weakest link.'"