In the battle against cyber security threats, psychological profiling is a tool rarely used to combat digital dangers. However, as Deshon Floyd learned, psychology is as potent a tool as any fire wall or encrypted password.

Over the summer months of 2015, Floyd was a participant in the U.S Department of Homeland Security (DHS) HS-STEM Summer Internship Program. This program provides undergraduate and graduate students majoring in homeland security related science, technology, engineering and mathematics (HS-STEM) disciplines the opportunity to conduct research in a DHS area at federal research facilities across the U.S.

Before taking part in the internship, Floyd was a criminal justice and psychology double major at Kentucky State University when he stumbled across a flyer for the program.

“At first I was nervous,” Floyd said about applying for the program, “I didn’t really know if psychology would be useful when dealing with cyber security, but once I was actually on-site and saw that everyone was interested in my research, I felt much more confident in my contribution to the program.”


Deshon Floyd spent his summer researching psychological profiling in order to characterize the motives of cyber criminals. (Photo Courtesy of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory)

Floyd worked with the Center for Collaborative Cyber-Physical Research. This center, located at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington, is tasked with the culmination of interdisciplinary scientific research to increase cyber security. The purpose of Floyd’s internship was helping to develop a novel approach in preventing leaks in digital information.

The first step for Deshon Floyd was to gather prior research on the topic.  Floyd compiled information from various criminal cases and applied psychological theory to better understand motivations behind cyber-attacks. Using this understanding, he believes, could lead to more effective responses and prevention measures.  By using psychological profiling, Floyd helped determine the various motivations that might cause a cyber-criminal to attempt to breach cyber security.

“There are two main categories of psychological motivation,” Floyd explained, “You have internal motivation, which plays less of a role in cyber security. You also have external motivation, in which someone is incentivized. This kind of motivation plays a bigger role in cyber security, where foreign or domestic entities are funded to steal digital information.”

Apart from contributing to national security, conducting research with scientists and engineers allowed Floyd to develop valuable professional and research skills that he plans to take with him as he pursues graduate education at the University of New Haven in West Haven Connecticut.

“Before this program, I wasn’t one-hundred percent about grad school,” Floyd said, “but after developing skills in a professional research setting, I knew that I have what it takes to pursue an advanced degree.”

The program also had unforeseen consequences for Floyd, as he attributes an increased professional network and his acting as an ambassador for the program to his time conducting research.

“The skills I developed go beyond the research side of things,” Floyd Said, “I gained experience with networking, I’m much more comfortable with public speaking, and I made great connections at the center. They even said they would like to have me back.”

The DHS HS-STEM Summer Internship Program is funded by DHS and administered through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE). ORISE is managed for DOE by ORAU.

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