Sociology Prof Wins $200K Grant To Study Socio-Economic Status and Cybersecurity

Posted On November 19, 2013
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Socioeconomic class determines a lot about people, from where they live and what they eat to the schools they attend and the jobs they’re likely to get.

But does that all end the moment they go online? After all, everybody is on equal on the Internet, right?

Well, maybe not. Adia Wingfield, associate professor of sociology at Georgia State University, thinks there may be a link between socioeconomic class and cybersecurity, and she has won a federal grant to help her dig into the issue.

Portrait of Adia Wingfield

Adia Wingfield

“Existing research has shown that poor individuals are more likely to bet and play the lottery,” said Wingfield. “I speculate that a large number of these people will also fall for phishing scams.”

Wingfield, with partner Abdul Raheem Beyah, has been awarded a National Science Foundation grant for $200,000 to study the possible link.

Phishing is the attempt to get people to reveal personal information, such as passwords, social security numbers or bank account details, in emails or other electronic communication designed to look like they originate from a legitimate source.

“We want to understand whether socioeconomic class differences can make people more responsive to phishing scams,” said Wingfield. “Do social classes play a major role, or are there other factors?”

The study will evaluate how people from a variety of backgrounds respond to different Web page designs.

“We want to shed light on income inequality in this country, and the impact that it has,” said Wingfield. “We’re actively recruiting people from poor, middle and upper classes.”

The funding runs for one year, and Wingfield is eager to get the project underway.

If the study does show a link between class and online security, Wingfield hopes the results can be used to create programs that address the problem.

“We hope the work we are doing will help enable an intervention tailored to target specific groups,” she said.

Wingfield’s partner, Beyah, is an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology.