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Tackling cybercrime

Cybercrime costs the UK economy approximately £27 million every year, with many cyberattacks attributed to human behaviour. An interdisciplinary team from Northumbria led by psychologists and computer scientists established new approaches for reducing vulnerability to cyberattacks. This work was adopted by businesses developing novel cybersecurity training, and influenced policy in Europe and in the UK. As a result of this work, Northumbria University is recognised as an Academic Centre of Excellence in Cybersecurity by the National Cyber Security Centre.   

Human behaviour is a key area of cybersecurity vulnerability for many organisations. Professor Pam Briggs and Professor Lynne Coventry specialise in human-centred cybersecurity research and are known for their innovative work in understanding and changing cybersecurity attitudes and behaviours. One of the research projects called IMPRINTS (Identity Management: Public Responses to Identity Technologies and Service) wanted to understand how members of the public felt about certain identity management systems, such as smart technologies or biometric authentication; the types of information users felt comfortable with, uncomfortable with and shouldn’t be sharing; and the types of systems users trusted to hold and exchange sensitive personal information. The IMPRINTS findings contributed to the development of UK policy on the responsible use of data and data protection, and are freely available online. 

Whereas IMPRINTS considered the types of identity management systems people want, the ChAISe (Choice Architecture for Information Security) project addressed the types of design nudges that can be incorporated into systems to help people protect their digital identities and data. Operating within the prestigious Research Institute in the Science of Cyber Security, ChAISe and subsequent projects resulted in a design of tools that help people and companies (including one of the largest retailers in the UK and a private hospital in Europe) better manage cybersecurity. Alongside, the Cyber Guardians project led by Dr James Nicholson helped senior citizens help themselves, resulting in over 800 senior citizens better understanding how to keep safe online. 

The research group’s wide-ranging work achieved significant impacts on a national and international level, including numerous reports advising the UK Government Office for Science on topics ranging from the Internet of Things and contributed to the Scientific Opinion on Cybersecurity in the European Digital Single Market (a report of the High Level Group of Scientific Advisors to the European Commission). Northumbria’s research thus influenced UK and European organisations, enabling them to tackle cybercrime through innovative training initiatives, policies, and practice.  

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