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GoTech Examines Whether County Demographics Shape Exposure to Cyber Harm

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A recent study by the Center for Governance of Technology and Systems (GoTech), supported by a grant from the Social Data Science Center (SoDa) at the University of Maryland, delves into the relationship between socioeconomic factors and cybersecurity vulnerabilities across U.S. counties. Their aim? To guide effective allocation of government funds for nationwide cybersecurity enhancement. 

“A major challenge for policymakers is figuring out where to invest scarce resources to best promote defense and resiliency,” said GoTech Director, Dr. Charles Harry. “This project builds on earlier work to identify social and economic determinants that provide insights to help inform those decisions." 

For this study, GoTech researchers aggregated and grouped publicly available internet scans into geographic locations for the communities it serves, with county demographic data from the U.S. Census to conduct a series of exploratory analyses, investigating the relationships between community characteristics and the levels of potential vulnerability to county government services. 

The findings show that higher population densities correspond to larger attack surfaces, rendering urban areas more vulnerable. Intriguingly, counties with a higher proportion of white residents tend to exhibit smaller attack surfaces, contrasting with the heightened vulnerability in areas with more black residents. However, this increase in vulnerability is likely tied to the smaller amount of deployed digital infrastructure in more rural, predominantly white counties. The study also uncovers that counties with a higher percentage of residents holding graduate degrees are more susceptible to cybersecurity threats. 

While existing research has scrutinized user characteristics and susceptibility to compromise, there is a notable gap in knowledge on how vulnerabilities in government infrastructures supporting several critical services are potentially distributed in different communities. GoTech’s findings and research represent an introductory exploration into this previously under-researched area. Going forward, GoTech aims to broaden its analysis nationwide to gain a more comprehensive understanding of these dynamics. 

For those interested, Harry will present the research findings on May 7, 2024, from 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm on Zoom for the SoDa Symposium titled “Do County Demographics Shape Exposure to Cyber Harm? Explore Socio-Economic Factors Influencing Integrated Attack Surface Size and Vulnerability,” where participants can delve into the correlation between population demographics and county-level critical infrastructure vulnerabilities. 

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Megan Campbell
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