ASU's innovation and global involvement gains credence with CySIS lab

Following ASU's designation as U.S. News & World Report's "Most Innovative School" award, ASU's Cyber-Socio Intelligent Systems Laboratory is using computer and social media analytics to combat real world problems.

The year-old lab, dubbed CySIS, seeks to conduct research related to cyber security, social network mining, security informatics and artificial intelligence to solve real-world problems, according to the CySIS website.

Paulo Shakarian, the director of the CySIS lab, is an assistant professor in the School of Computing, Informatics and Decision Systems Engineering, and he has a background in both artificial intelligence and the military.

“What we wanted to do was design a lab that builds systems that can impact some real world problems, in particular with regard to cyber security, social media analytics, and in general some analytic problems dealing with security outside of cyberspace,” Shakarian said.

Using computer analytics to confront real world security has catapulted the lab to recognition among the general population, largely due to CySIS’ work in regards to the Islamic extremist group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.

The recent ISIS research has come in two parts.

Using on-the-ground information, the group published a data-driven study of the militant group, Shakarian said.

“We gathered 2,200 incidents about the Islamic State and we looked to establish relationship rules to describe their behavior — what would happen a week before, say, a spike in car bombs or a spike in suicide bombings,” he said. “We did this analysis that moves beyond correlation, so we can infer causality.”

The second project, using funds from a recently awarded Department of Defense Minerva Grant, looks for extremist messages on the Internet that are on the verge of virality, Shakarian said.

Below: Shakarian describes how the research to target internet extremism and some envisioned usages of that research

The lab’s work in security follows recent trends at ASU, with the recent launching of the Center for Cybersecurity and Digital Forensics by the Global Security Initiative.

CySIS’ work is not limited to predicting and identifying terrorist sentiment. Members of the lab have also published papers in social networking trends, cyber warfare, hacking and, notably, applications to law enforcement.

Elham Shaabani is a computer science graduate student in the lab who has played a significant role in CySIS’ recent research involving gang violence.

“We collaborated with Chicago P.D., as they had problems identifying violent gang members, so we tried to solve that problem,” she said.

Shaabani said the project used social network analysis to identify which gang members could be violent, and emphasized that the lab focuses on creating solutions to real world problems.

The CySIS lab is not limited to doctoral and graduate students, however — it also has seen considerable contribution from some undergrads.

JJ Robertson, computer science and electrical engineering senior, is one of the five undergraduate students working with the lab.

“Most of my research has been in modeling cyberdefense scenarios,” Robertson said. “We know what kind of exploits are available to an attacker, because we’re mining this information from what’s called the dark net: the portion of the internet that’s not indexed by something like Google.”

He said his work is used to minimize the damage of the cyberattack by making recommendations on what software to use based on the lab’s data mining.

Robertson said he recognizes the opportunities the lab provides him as an undergraduate.

Robertson is a Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative student, which provides lab experience and research opportunities culminating in a symposium, so his CySIS work has worked well with his status as a FURI student, he said.

“Just getting to apply (knowledge from class) has been a good experience, and another opportunity,” he said.

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