ATLANTA—Georgia State criminologist Marie Ouellet is bringing computer scientists together with social scientists to study online cybercriminals and their networks under a new two-year grant of nearly $350,000 funded by George Mason University’s Criminal Investigation and Network Analysis Center.
Ouellet, an assistant professor of criminal justice and criminology in Georgia State’s Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, and her six-member team, including David Maimon, director of the Evidence-Based Cybersecurity Research Group and computer scientist Yubao Wu, will use digital trace data to examine trends in online interactions between criminal offenders.
“On many cryptomarkets, when vendors make a sale of an illicit product, it’s recorded,” she said. “We can scrape data from cybermarkets and online forums to create a data set of these offenders.”
They will use this data to map the trajectory of active cybercriminals.
“We’re interested in when they started committing crimes online, what factors lead them to escalate into other types of crime, and when they disappear or stop committing online crimes,” she said. “Eventually, we’ll look at how the larger ecosystem of vendors interact. For example, if you remove one vendor, how does it affect the rest of the cybercrime infrastructure?”
Ouellet’s research on cybercrime builds on her prior interest in how networks structure the establishment and evolution of criminal groups.
“This kind of research is very consistent with the Andrew Young School’s commitment to digital innovation,” she said. It’s also an example of the growing field of public interest technology. “A big part of the project is bringing in computer scientists to work with social scientists. Alone, I wouldn’t have the skills or expertise to scrape the web for the data we need.”
This collaboration will result in an opportunity to build on a burgeoning branch of criminological research.
“We’ve begun to understand cryptocurrency markets in general through longitudinal studies,” said Ouellet, “but we still don’t know much about how cybercriminals interact with one another.”
The research advances new and beneficial methods of collecting data as well.
“Data from off-line markets often relies on self-reports or official records, like arrest records,” she said. “But for online markets, we have access to records, such as transaction histories or advertisements that we’ve never been able to study before.”
During the study, Ouellet will look for similarities between traditional crime network research and this new area of study.
“It’s worth looking at whether our findings about online crime networks tie into traditional criminology theories,” she said. “This research will offer a unique opportunity to expand our knowledge of crime networks in the digital age.”
Story by Sumar Deen
Department of Criminal Justice & Criminology
Marie Ouellet is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology at Georgia State University. She is interested in understanding how delinquent groups emerge and evolve, and how networks structure this process. Her main research applies network methods to the study of co-offenders, delinquent peer groups, gangs, and white-collar crime. Some of her current work draws on the policing subculture literature to explore how misconduct spreads through exposure to delinquent peers. Ouellet’s work has been published in Criminology, Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, and Social Networks.