PhD Proposal: Where the Rubber Meets the Road: Real-World Security in Sensitive Contexts

Noel Warford
06.07.2022 11:00 to 13:00

IRB 3137

Despite decades of research, many users continue experience difficulty in protecting themselves online in day-to-day interactions, like messaging and using social media. Additionally, some users experience risk factors that augment or amplify their chances of being digitally attacked and/or suffering disproportionate harms. In recent years, the human-centered security research community has made progress in understanding the specific needs of at-risk users. This work is beneficial for at-risk users specifically and all users generally, as greater usability and better options for digital safety is beneficial to everyone.In this thesis, we will synthesize the existing at-risk user research space and use the insights from this literature to inform future work to both continue to understand the needs and practices of at-risk users and reduce barriers to secure practices for all users. We have already analyzed the existing literature, and have found ten contextual risk factors — the factors that augment or amplify digital- safety risks. We have also identified three major classes of protective practices — how at-risk users currently protect themselves with both technical and non-technical solutions — and several barriers to implementing digital-safety practices.This thesis will also examine digital safety in sensitive contexts in the real world. We have already identified that when sending sensitive documents, users prefer familiar methods like email and in-person transit and are satisfied with the privacy of these methods. We will also investigate the experiences of video game journalists in relation to online abuse, as we hypothesize that two of the previously identified contextual risk factors–prominence and marginalization–may combine to particularly increase their digital-safety risks. This study will then be used to further inform how we can reduce barriers to implementing secure practices in realistic contexts.
Examining Committee:

Chair:Department Representative:

Dr. Michelle Mazurek Dr. Jordan Boyd-Graber
Dr. Jessica VitakDr. Sunny Consolvo (Google)Dr. Ian Miers