What cybersecurity can learn from citizen science

But as anyone who has observed an online forum thread dissecting the minutiae of geek culture can attest, hobbyists can be remarkably thorough in their exploration of topics they are passionate about. And it is often a point of pride to pick the subject that is the least conventional or popular.

The idea of citizen science is to include amateur science enthusiasts in the collection and processing of data. Thanks to the Internet, we’ve seen a surge in the number of self-taught experts in a variety of subjects. New participation platforms are social and gamified – utilizing people’s desire to compete or collaborate with others who share their passion.

How this process plays out differs from one app to the next, according to their needs: StarDust@Home asks volunteers to help sort through samples captured by the Stardust spacecraft when it flew through the coma of comet Wild 2 in 2004. They do this by viewing movies of the contents of the aerogel tiles that were used as collectors.

The security community is ripe for using the citizen science in similar ways to these. Most antimalware vendors make use of customer samples for adding detection and cleaning to their products. Many security companies use customers’ reports to gather file reputation, telemetry and prevalence data. And bug reports come from researchers of all ages and education levels – not just professional security researchers. “Month of Bug” events are a more controversial way that security is gamified. Could security companies or organizations be doing more to engage enthusiasts to help improve our response to security issues?

It could be argued that the stuff of security research – especially malware research – is potentially harmful in the hands of amateurs and should be handled only by seasoned professionals. Not only that, security is an adversarial system where the criminals would likely try to game the system to improve their profits. These are important concerns that would need to be addressed.

But the citizen science approach provides good lessons…(More)”