The Emergence of Social Cybersecurity: What is it all about?

September 8, 2021 12:49 pm || By

Increasingly cyber world meant that everything would gain its cyber counterpart; security is no exception. Currently, the world’s attention is hinged on cybersecurity’s technicalities, yet I believe that this should not be the case. Since the pandemic hits, societies all around the world have been gearing for a post-pandemic world. Alvin Powell in The Harvard Gazette listed a couple of interesting points such as the defining of a new, much more depressed and anxiety-ridden, generation; the reformation of the work culture from the office to a freer hybrid choice of office and remote working; the overhauling change in the city’s traffic; the death of traditional storefronts in favor of their online counterparts which offers a new set of problems such as unemployment; the rise of cashless society which, in turn, also gave rise to a new mindset of using credit cards to pay for smaller purchases instead of the traditional ‘plastic for large purchases or emergencies’ mindset; and the emerging popularity of telehealth services.[i] These points present a totally different problem, but it has one underlying theme: they are all related to the usage of the internet and its network. Thus, I strongly believe that cybersecurity is not just about a technical problem. It is also a very much needed social-oriented discipline in the field of cybersecurity. The academic community realizes this and has been discussing the emergence of a new scientific area called Social Cybersecurity.

According to Carnegie Mellon University’s Computation, Organizations, and Society website, social cybersecurity is an emerging scientific area that focuses on the science to characterize, understand, and forecast changes in human behavior, social, cultural and political outcomes, and to build the cyber-infrastructure needed for society to persist in its essential character in a cyber-mediated. Information environment under changing conditions and actual or imminent cyber threats.[ii]

A study done by Carley has perfectly encapsulated the social cybersecurity field and its general overview[iii] Furthermore, the following paragraphs will further elaborate her findings on social cybersecurity. The first thing to note is how social cybersecurity is a new field both in science and engineering due to its approach as a computational social science in applied research. It draws on a massive range of disciplines in new technologies, and findings in social cybersecurity have near-immediate application on the internet. Its findings and methods are relevant to policymakers, scholars, and corporations.

Social cybersecurity is distinct from cybersecurity. Cybersecurity is focused on machines and how computers and databases can be compromised, whereas social cybersecurity is focused on humans and how these humans can be compromised, converted, and relegated to the unimportant. Cybersecurity experts are expected to understand technology, computer science, and engineering, while social cybersecurity experts are expected to understand social communication and community building, statistics, social networks, and machine learning. Carley also listed that works pertaining to social cybersecurity reach 1437 papers (up to 2019) in various disciplines’ journals, with Interdisciplinary journals at the top and social science at close second.[iv]

We have established social cybersecurity as a science; thus, what does it really talk about? There are several research areas in the field of social cybersecurity. The dominant topic is the study on disinformation and misinformation, followed by user behaviors and networks in the web, then politics and democracy. But there are also areas such as collective action and activism, opinion mining and sentiment, influence and marketing, diffusion, identity, censorship, and all the way to the practice of spamming[v]. Carley also explains that she believes that there are seven core research areas in the field of social cybersecurity, which constitutes of[vi]:

  1. Social Cyber-Forensics—identifying who is conducting social cybersecurity attacks.
  2. Information Maneuvers—understanding strategies used to conduct an attack and the intent of those strategies.
  3. Motive Identification—understanding what the perpetrators’ motive is.
  4. Diffusion—tracing, and even predict, the spread of an influence campaign.
  5. Effectiveness of Information Campaigns—quantify the effectiveness of the social cybersecurity attack.
  6. Mitigation—understanding how a social cybersecurity attack be countered or mitigated and understanding how communities can become resilient to attacks.
  7. Governance—understanding what policies and laws are needed so the people can continue to use the internet without fear of undue influence for the sake of informed democracy.

Surprisingly, one of the sectors that have declared their need for social cybersecurity strategy is the military sector. Beskow and Carley have argued that greatest strategic weakness for any country is internal instead of external and such. Leaders must understand social cybersecurity to defend the internal weaknesses from external manipulation and directly educating military force and indirectly educating society about decentralized nature of modern information environment, existing risks, and the ways and means to individually filter the facts and opinions digested and become part of our beliefs and opinions will be beneficial in the future.[vii]

Like every other field of study, cybersecurity is continuously evolving as time goes by. While the technicalities of cybersecurity will remain a relevant domain of this field, I believe that social cybersecurity as an emerging science will become one of the cornerstones needed to survive in an increasingly cyber world as we welcome new technologies such as artificial intelligence and Internet of Things into our everyday livelihood.

Author: Irnasya Shafira
Editor: Amelinda Pandu Kusumaningtyas


[i] Alvin Powell. 2020. What will the new post-pandemic normal look like? accessed from https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2020/11/our-post-pandemic-world-and-whats-likely-to-hang-round/ on 25 August 2021

[ii] CASOS. ____. Social-Cybersecurity accessed from http://www.casos.cs.cmu.edu/projects/projects/social_cyber_security.php on 25 August 2021

[iii] Carley, K.M., 2020. Social cybersecurity: an emerging science. Computational and mathematical organization theory, 26(4), pp.365-381. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10588-020-09322-9

[iv] ibid

[v] Ibid pp. 368

[vi] Ibid pp. 377

[vii] Beskow, D.M. and Carley, K.M., 2019. Social cybersecurity: an emerging national security requirement. Carnegie Mellon University Pittsburgh United States. downloaded from https://apps.dtic.mil/sti/pdfs/AD1108494.pdf