Dr. Nitesh Saxena, professor in the Department of Computer Science at Texas A&M University and Engineering Dean’s Research Fellow, is part of a research team that was recently awarded a $6.2 million grant from the highly competitive Department of Defense’s Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) Program. Given over five years, the funds will support their work investigating human cognitive security in various information environments.
Collaborators on the project include researchers from the United States Air Force Academy and the University of Colorado Boulder. Saxena is the sole Texas A&M principal investigator, and the university will receive $1.2 million from the grant.
Cognitive security refers to the notion of protecting people from information-based threats that aim to disrupt cognitive processes, such as their ability to reason and make decisions. Due to the prevalence of sophisticated technology, social media, the amount of personal data generated online daily in society and the convergence of information technology with operational technology, these threats are becoming increasingly more dangerous in scale and scope.
The researchers will develop defensive solutions to combat users’ susceptibility to cyber-attacks through the foundations of psychology and neuroscience for their project. To do this, the team will study average users, emergency responders and astronauts within various information-dense environments that may impact their decision-making when faced with security threats.
“This is an area of research that was pioneered in my lab and that of my collaborators. We are humbled to receive the award and excited to launch this MURI project to further contribute toward a deeper understanding of human behavior vis-à-vis cybersecurity threats and design appropriate mitigations,” Saxena said.
The team’s previous studies on user-centered security regarding how people process the tasks of detecting phishing attacks and malware warnings serve as a foundation for this project.
A total of 31 teams from 61 U.S. universities were selected to receive a MURI grant to support their research projects, which span 24 topic areas that are of strategic importance to the Department of Defense.