A University of Arkansas at Little Rock professor and two doctoral students presented their research on cyber defense at the international NATO Technology for Information, Decision and Execution (TIDE) Sprint Conference on Oct. 26 in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Nitin Agarwal, the UALR Jerry L. Maulden-Entergy endowed chair and director of the Center of Social Media & Online Behavioral Sciences (COSMOS), and his students, Samer Al-Khateeb and Nihal Hussain, monitored social media responses, especially from pro-Russian media outlets, to NATO exercises Operation Brilliant Jump and Anakonda over the summer.
This project and other research Agarwal is engaged in is funded in part by a $186,692 grant from the U.S. Office of Naval Research and a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Army Research Office.
The researchers' conference presentation, "Understanding Influence Operations of Novorossiya through Blogs and Twitter," detailed how anti-NATO groups and those involved in the Russian nationalist movement known as Novorossiya reacted to information released by NATO and media coverage of the exercises via social media.
Agarwal said in a news release that it's important to monitor misinformation spread through social media, since deviant groups can coordinate cyber campaigns to influence thinking and media coverage of events and that can lead to people to carry out attacks.
"Misinformation is rampant," Agarwal said. "Complemented with the availability of inexpensive and ubiquitous mass communication tools, such as social media, conducting deviant acts becomes both convenient and effective."
The researchers used social network analysis and cyber forensics to develop tools and methodologies to find hidden relations between different groups and track those groups across social media websites, Al-Khateeb said in the release.
Their research can identify the influential people in a social network who are most responsible for spreading false information in a cyber campaign and track how this information is spread from one social network to another.
"Blogs provide a rich medium for presenting a story with half-truths and misinformation, which are then disseminated using Twitter or Facebook." Hussain said. "Identifying these cross-media affiliations is important to build a complete picture."