Is Cybersecurity A Solitary Endeavor?

IT experts have a largely unfair reputation as preferring their own company and being less than adept in social situations.  A recent study by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory suggests such behavior might actually help when it comes to maintaining cybersecurity.

The research found that the best performing teams had relatively few interactions with their team mates.  The finding emerged from a study exploring how collegiate cyber defense teams worked to fend off attacks during a Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition.

Each team in the competition was scored on four key performance metrics as they defended their network in an attack that was designed to mimic an attack on crucial infrastructure.  The teams were tasked with maintaining networked services, responding to events during the scenario, responding to assigned tasks from a CEO and submitting incident reports to the relevant authorities.

Tracking the cyber defenders

The participants were tracked via the Sociometric Badges produced by Humanyze.  The lanyard trackers record a wide range of data points, especially on the interactions between team members.  In addition to this data, the researchers measured things such as leadership style, task distribution and communication via questionnaires distributed to each participant.

The best teams tended to have both effective leadership and functional specialization, but face-to-face interaction actually harmed performance levels.

“In other words, the teams whose members interacted less during the exercise, were usually more successful,” the researchers say.

The authors believe that this suggests that human collaboration and leadership of teams responding to a cyber attack are crucial.

“These results are important because current training programs commonly emphasize cyber security knowledge and do not provide training on effective team management,” they explain.  “The research also demonstrated the value of measures derived from recent advancements in wearables technology by capturing face-to-face interactions. Increasingly, such social sensing platforms are being leveraged by Army researchers, industry and academia to enhance human measurement and validate and refine theories regarding the factors influencing human performance and teamwork over time.”

The authors believe that the best teams had fewer social interactions because they functioned as purposive social systems.  In other words, they were teams full of people who were readily identifiable, both in terms of their role and position, and therefore were able to work independently to accomplish their collective objectives.

The study was part of a wider body of work undertaken by the Army Research Laboratory into enhancing our understanding of the human dynamics of attacker, defender and user interactions, all with the goal of improving training and operational effectiveness.

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