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Researchers from Arizona State University are stepping up in the growing cyber war against Islamic State.

Housed in the ASU Fulton School of Engineering is the Cyber-Socio Intelligent Systems Lab, colloquially called CySIS. The team consists of less than 20 members: a mix of Ph.D. students, graduates and undergraduates, and research associates. The lab recently received new funding for a five-year study to develop a plan to counter the social media prominence of extremist groups.

CySIS primarily uses a technique that analyzes information cascades.

An information cascade “develops when people abandon their own information in favor of inferences based on earlier people’s actions.” Essentially, it is a socially and technologically advanced form of the phrase “monkey see, monkey do.”

As reported in TechCrunch, Paulo Shakarian, lab director of the CySIS program and associate professor, said:

messages, memes or news items that go viral can have a structural diversity which is telling…a message that disperses into a variety of online communities is more likely to go viral. For example, if you were to receive the same tweet from three work colleagues, that’s only really one source and so is unlikely to spread much farther. If, on the other hand, you were to receive a tweet from a family member, a work colleague and an old college friend, that’s potentially more significant. We have developed metrics to assess the significance of how a message or micro blog spreads online.

Once extremist messages have been identified, the goal then is to restrict or block the violent content and replace it with social messages that strike a more moderate tone.

CySIS is getting help from LookingGlass Cyber Solutions, a threat intelligence firm headquartered in Arlington, Va. LookingGlass developed a software that generates and delivers various sources of threat data.

Additionally, field researchers on-the-ground in various countries will be gathering information on the causes of terrorism. That information will be included with the threat analysis from the software.

Dr. Hasan Davulcu, an associate professor from ASU, detailed the early stages for how the program could work. “Initially, we work with area experts to identify on-the-ground groups. Next, we find their online media and followers, and we track the correspondence between what goes viral online (e.g., the issues, events, perspectives), and explore the correspondences between virtual observations and on-the-ground effects.”

This new source of funds for the CySIS project primarily covers Twitter usage in Indonesia, Iraq, Malaysia, Nigeria, Syria, and the United Kingdom.

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