Monday, March 3, 2014

Psychology & Cybersecurity

This January work began on a major new long-term project, which will lay the groundwork for a new, highly interdisciplinary science in which psychology plays a critical role. At stake are not only the personal and financial information of individuals everywhere, but the safety of nations, and the lives of individuals in combat and other state ventures across the globe. Not surprisingly, the White House has an interest and will have direct oversight of the project. 

Bennett Bertenthal, the James H. Rudy Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences, is one of 17 principal investigators from five major universities to receive a grant, awarded in October, from the Army Research Lab to collaborate in a ten-year study of cybersecurity. The group, brought together by Penn State researcher Patrick McDaniel, a professor of computer science and engineering, was chosen from a competitive field to launch a research program on cybersecurity with an initial five-year grant of $24 million. An opportunity to renew in another five years makes this a nearly $50 million project. 

Bertenthal is one of three principal investigators at IU, who together have received $3.5 million of these funds. The others at IU include School of Informatics and Computing professor L. Jean Camp and School of Public and Environmental Affairs professor Diane Henshel.

As Bertenthal explains, “The army has become increasingly concerned about the vulnerability of its defense networks and wants to have a comprehensive research agenda to ensure they are doing everything possible to detect, prevent, and assess the risk of attack.” 

As a cognitive scientist, his work addresses the human dimension of a problem that ranges widely across heterogeneous systems of computer networks and can involve the entire army command around the world.

Many instances of cyber-warfare, he says, “are attacks on actual physical systems or on software itself. But a huge component remains the human dimension and the degree to which individuals can be deceived into providing secure information or just because of their own lack of knowledge provide information that will reduce the security of the computer system.”

“The weak links,” he says, “are often people—people not knowing that they are being deceived into providing credentials or secure information.”
The initial task in the study will be to identify and create models of different kinds of computer users, from attackers to defenders. They will conduct surveys of various groups, both computer experts and novices, from students and ordinary citizens, to army personnel of all ranks, as well as computer hackers. (They will attend a hackers’ conference this summer for this purpose.)

In a second phase of research he and his research staff, he says, “will look at real-time behavior in a computer environment to see how variables such as fatigue, cognitive load, depletion of cognitive resources, or multitasking might lead someone to become less guarded about warnings or signs of an attack. Experimental research on individuals will then be compared to the different models that people in the group are developing.”

“Ultimately,” he explains, “a lot of what we’re doing is trying to understand scenarios where there is risk, figure out how to identify real attacks and how to mitigate against them. You want to develop models that will help to detect and diagnose if a computer is being attacked.” 

And whether we are talking about military secrets, personal banking information, or a database full of social security numbers, the problem, he adds, “does not stop with the military. It affects all of us now.

“That is why it is a ten-year project.”

Friday, January 3, 2014

One New York Times, three PBS students: From "highchair philosophers" to schadenfreude, a recent New York Times features the work of current and former PBS students

For an explanation of why we watch reality TV or why toddlers play vigorously with their nonsolid food, take a look at the December 23rd Science Times. You will also find in these stories the names of several current and former PBS students: Katie Boucher, a current postdoctoral student of Mary Murphy and former grad student of B. J. Rydell; Lynn Perry, a former PBS undergraduate major who completed her honors thesis with Linda Smith; and Larissa Samuelson, former graduate student of Smith. Perry is now a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Samuelson is an associate professor at the University of Iowa.
Boucher is featured in a book review of "The Joy of Pain: Schadenfreude and the Dark Side of Human Nature" by University of Kentucky psychology professor Richard Smith. Boucher worked with Smith as an undergraduate on the topic of “schadenfreude,” the pleasure taken in others’ pain.
Schadenfreude, the reviewer explains, is an antidote to the envy we feel when we measure ourselves against others and come up short. The urge to make social comparisons may be hard-wired—studies show that even monkeys and dogs measure themselves against their peers. Yet schadenfreude, somewhat perversely perhaps, enables us to undo the envy we may feel as a result of negative comparisons. It also may  explain the satisfaction we get from watching reality TV or reading the National Enquirer, two topics of Boucher’s research as an undergraduate. Seeing others’ downfall, especially if they have more fame and fortune than ourselves, makes us feel better about our own un-filmed or un-prosperous lives.
In "To Smoosh Peas is to Learn," Perry and Samuelson provide the fodder (so to speak) for science writer Perri Klass in her musings on toddlers' table manners. Children are generally much better at learning about solid objects than nonsolid objects, which require a bit more exploration. The highchair provides an effective context for learning about nonsolid substances because it is where children are accustomed to encountering them, and the more they interact with those substances, the more they learn.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Campus honors Lana Fish, PBS Human Resources Coordinator, at Staff Merit Award ceremony

On Monday, December 16, IU Provost Lauren Robel led the annual ceremony to celebrate the “remarkable accomplishments” of six exceptional IUB staff members. Not surprisingly, beloved PBS Human Resources Coordinator Lana Fish was among them. The others were Jay Owens, Douglas J. Burcham, and James Robert Gregg from the Physical Plant, Jennifer Mitchner from SPEA and David Sprinkle in Physics.

Now in its 34th year, the award ceremony is a unique occasion to recognize the immense contributions of IUB staff. Provost Robel set the tone by calling attention to these 5,400 individuals whose work each day literally makes the whole academic enterprise run.

To stand out in such a crowd is no small feat, but if anyone can, it is Lana, who has served the department since 1983, first as clinic coordinator, then as human resources coordinator for the whole department.

The nomination letters for the award passionately and persuasively convey those qualities that made it possible for her do so.

“Hiring Lana Fish,” said one, “proved to be one of the best decisions of my career. As the department’s most dedicated, caring, cheerful, unselfish, reliable, competent, and beloved staff member, she has kept the department running smoothly, happily, and efficiently for many years. With her unassuming, unflappable, loyal, generous, and unerringly competent style, Lana is the consummate example of the ideal professional staff member.  IU has been graced by her unsurpassed service.”

“She was my wise mentor,” said another, “training me not to take issues personally, to open my mind to all sides kindly, but logically, to make the best decision for the department, and then to implement that decision transparently, firmly, but with respect for all involved. In summary, this is an outstanding human being and professional who–every day–makes Psychological and Brain Sciences, and IU, work, and does this with a life wisdom that is truly inspirational.”

Or as a third explained, she has been the confidant of four successive chairs, the most senior faculty as well as first-year faculty and graduate students. “Unmatched in her skill, professionalism, diplomacy, and character, her wisdom and unwavering commitment to the good of the whole has made her the bedrock of our department.”

As for Lana herself, she is overcome with emotion in describing the event, especially the response of PBS colleagues, who made up a disproportionately large part of the audience: “To see PBS standing up and cheering, all that support, it was overwhelming.”