Skip navigation

Understanding contagion spreading processes of cyber security threats through social networks

Understanding contagion spreading processes of cyber security threats through social networks

Brett, Terry (2021) Understanding contagion spreading processes of cyber security threats through social networks. PhD thesis, University of Greenwich.

Terry Brett 2021.pdf - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

Download (9MB) | Preview


The spreading of ideas, memes, norms, products, and diseases are few examples of phenomena that can be studied and modelled as contagion processes on networks. Over the last decade, the unprecedented access to high resolution data about on/offline human interactions has shifted such studies from theoretical scholarly exercises to data-driven realistic models now used in a range of applications in different industries and domains.

Surprisingly, the dynamics of contagion in terms of semantic social engineering threats, such as phishing, scams, drive-by-malware etc. have received so far little attention. Indeed, although their spreading is conducted primarily in online social networks, studies in cyber security have been focused mainly on defining the characteristics of threats and users that are more likely to result in successful attacks. In other words, the complexity emerging from the unsupervised interactions and actions of a large number of users as well as threats strategies have been largely neglected.

The project has tackled this limitation head-on. By leveraging expertise on modelling contagion processes in networks, cyber security, and data science we first introduced a theoretical modelling framework that captures temporal nature of social interactions and the heterogeneity of users’ susceptibility. We study two realistic types of viruses propagating on temporal networks featuring different categories of susceptibility and derive analytically the invasion threshold. We then developed and deployed an experimental online platform to observe, empirically, the spreading of simulated cyber threats in a population of connected users. The platform allows users to interact passing and receiving content (potentially compromised) to/from others. By considering different threats, network configurations and different levels of information provided to users about their contacts, the dynamics of threats diffusion has been observed in 8 experiments involving 109 participants. The aim is to isolate the social mechanisms responsible for the spreading of cyber threats in online networks and devise new efficient ways for cyber protection at societal level.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Cyber security, cyber threats, online social networks,
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Q Science > Q Science (General)
Faculty / School / Research Centre / Research Group: Faculty of Business
Faculty of Business > Department of International Business & Economics
Last Modified: 28 Sep 2021 16:32

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year

View more statistics