Socio-Cyber Project Receives Half Million Dollar Grant

Three Norfolk State professors have received nearly a half million dollars from the National Science Foundation to study the impact of cybersecurity policies on employees’ efficiency and performance predictability.

Dr. Carlene Buchanan Turner, associate professor of sociology; Dr. Claude Turner, associate professor of computer science; and Dr. Yuying Shen, associate professor sociology; were awarded the Excellence in Research grant for the period of July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2023. It is the first Excellence in Research grant awarded to Norfolk State.

The professors’ project is part of a collaborative initiative of the College of Liberal Arts Department of Sociology and the College of Science, Engineering and Technology Department of Computer Science, jointly known as the socio-cybersecurity project. “This project combines perspective and concepts from two different disciplines,” said Dr. Shen, a co-principal investigator. “It provides an inspiring model for faculty members from two different discipline-based departments to communicate in a productive way to explore solutions to some problems which are beyond the scope of a single discipline.”

With this latest grant award, the socio-cybersecurity project has received nearly $1 million in total funding from NSF since its inception in 2016 — two previous grants totaled $480,000. Up until 2019, the project team included Dr. Robert K. Perkins in sociology, and Dr. Cheryl Hinds and Dr. Jonathan Graham in computer science. The project’s evaluators are Dr. Kianga Thomas from the School of Education, and Dr. Anthony Joseph from Pace University in New York. The goal was to infuse cybersecurity into the social sciences.

To that end, with the collaborative work of faculty from both departments, 25 instructional modules that integrate cybersecurity into existing sociology and criminal justice undergraduate courses have been developed. A new 400-level Socio-Cybersecurity course, developed directly from the project, has been offered by the Sociology Department. Additionally, in May 2018 and 2019, the project team conducted two faculty development workshops for socio-cybersecurity instructional module development. The project’s outcome has been disseminated through five peer-reviewed journal articles, and other faculty and student presentation efforts.

The new grant, The Impact of Cybersecurity Policies on Employees’ Efficiency and Performance Predictability: A Sociology of Organization Analysis, will look at the impact that the stringency of cybersecurity protocols within an organization has on the predictability of responses of employees to security vulnerabilities. “We will examine how people interact with cybersecurity protocols in their place of work,” said Dr. Carlene Buchanan Turner, who is the principal investigator and chair of the NSU sociology department. “Qualitative methodology will be utilized to interview approximately 60 employees from companies in the Hampton Roads area,” she said.

Participants will interact with a simulated workspace created by Dr. Claude Turner and his team of students from computer science before and after the qualitative interviews. “The application will present participants with realistic scenarios of cybersecurity risks and vulnerabilities as they would be encountered in the workplace, record participants’ responses, and rate their performance,” said Dr. Claude Turner, who is a co-principal investigator and chair of the NSU computer science department.

Dr. Carlene Turner emphasizes the success of the project, noting that more than 300 NSU students participated in the projects between 2016 and 2019, and that 20 students served as research assistants and data collectors during that time. Turner believes that having students exposed to socio-cybersecurity makes them more adaptable as they move into the work world or into graduate school.