Nav: Home

New tools help detect digital domestic abuse

August 15, 2019

ITHACA, N.Y. - A new clinical model developed by Cornell Tech researchers aims to respond systematically and effectively to the growing array of digital threats against victims of intimate partner violence. Working with the New York City Mayor's Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence, the researchers created and piloted a questionnaire, a spyware scanning tool and a diagram for assessing clients' digital footprints.

The first-of-its-kind model can help counselors without tech expertise pinpoint online abuse - and protect the safety of abuse victims and their advisers. Using this strategy, researchers found potential spyware, compromised accounts or exploitable misconfigurations for 23 of the 44 clients they advised.

"Prior to this work, people were reporting that the abusers were very sophisticated hackers, and clients were receiving inconsistent advice," said Diana Freed, Cornell Tech doctoral student in the field of information science and co-lead author of "Clinical Computer Security for Victims of Intimate Partner Violence," presented Aug. 14 at the USENIX Security Symposium in Santa Clara, California.

"Some people were saying, 'Throw your device out.' Other people were saying, 'Delete the app.' But there wasn't a clear understanding of how this abuse was happening and why it was happening," Freed said. "We felt that a methodical approach through a uniform, data-driven consultation would yield better results so we can help other advocates do this type of work at the level it's needed."

Co-first author of the paper is Sam Havron, Cornell Tech doctoral student in computer science. Senior authors are Nicola Dell, assistant professor at the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute at Cornell Tech, and Thomas Ristenpart, associate professor at Cornell Tech.

The authors are among the researchers from Cornell Tech, Cornell in Ithaca and New York University collaborating to improve technological safety and security for survivors of intimate partner violence. Dell and Ristenpart were recently awarded a $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation to continue their research examining the role of tech in intimate partner abuse.

Abusers use a range of digital tools to stalk or harass their victims, from traditional spyware to tracking apps intended for more benign purposes, like finding one's phone. It can be extremely challenging to detect vulnerabilities amid the sheer number of apps, digital devices and online accounts most people use daily - particularly for counselors without tech skills.

"They were making their best efforts, but there was no uniform way to address this," Havron said. "They were using Google to try to help clients with their abuse situations."

At the same time, tech experts don't have the background to advise clients how to fix problems in ways that won't endanger them, such as angering an abuser who just noticed a deleted app or a changed password.

The researchers run a weekly tech clinic in New York City's Family Justice Centers, which provide a full range of services for intimate partner abuse victims. Through this work, the team developed and piloted its Technology Assessment Questionnaire, which includes such questions as, "Does the abuser show up unexpectedly or know things they shouldn't know?" and "Is there a chance the abuser knows (or could guess) the answers to your password reset questions?"

They also created the "technograph," a diagram which helps summarize clients' digital assets; and ISDi (IPV Spyware Discovery), a spyware scanning tool. ISDi scans devices for known spyware apps through a USB cable, rather than a downloadable app, making it impossible for an abuser to detect.

"This sort of tool doesn't exist anywhere else," Havron said. "In earlier work, we did a comprehensive scrape of the Google Play Store and eventually compiled a list of thousands of apps across marketplaces, and that's what the ISDi is based on."

The questionnaire, technograph and ISDi are all freely available on the project team's website.

Though the paper focused on intimate partner abuse, this method could be useful for any victims of online abuse, such as activists, dissidents or journalists, the researchers said.

"It's consistent, it's data-driven and it takes into account at each phase what the abuser will know if the client makes changes," Freed said. "This is giving people a more accurate way to make decisions and providing them with a comprehensive understanding of how things are happening."
-end-
The paper is co-authored by Rahul Chatterjee and Damon McCoy of NYU. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and gifts from Comcast and Google.

Cornell University

Related Science Articles:

75 science societies urge the education department to base Title IX sexual harassment regulations on evidence and science
The American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) today led 75 scientific societies in submitting comments on the US Department of Education's proposed changes to Title IX regulations.
Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, biopharma, and pharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2018 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.
Science in the palm of your hand: How citizen science transforms passive learners
Citizen science projects can engage even children who previously were not interested in science.
Applied science may yield more translational research publications than basic science
While translational research can happen at any stage of the research process, a recent investigation of behavioral and social science research awards granted by the NIH between 2008 and 2014 revealed that applied science yielded a higher volume of translational research publications than basic science, according to a study published May 9, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Xueying Han from the Science and Technology Policy Institute, USA, and colleagues.
Prominent academics, including Salk's Thomas Albright, call for more science in forensic science
Six scientists who recently served on the National Commission on Forensic Science are calling on the scientific community at large to advocate for increased research and financial support of forensic science as well as the introduction of empirical testing requirements to ensure the validity of outcomes.
World Science Forum 2017 Jordan issues Science for Peace Declaration
On behalf of the coordinating organizations responsible for delivering the World Science Forum Jordan, the concluding Science for Peace Declaration issued at the Dead Sea represents a global call for action to science and society to build a future that promises greater equality, security and opportunity for all, and in which science plays an increasingly prominent role as an enabler of fair and sustainable development.
PETA science group promotes animal-free science at society of toxicology conference
The PETA International Science Consortium Ltd. is presenting two posters on animal-free methods for testing inhalation toxicity at the 56th annual Society of Toxicology (SOT) meeting March 12 to 16, 2017, in Baltimore, Maryland.
Citizen Science in the Digital Age: Rhetoric, Science and Public Engagement
James Wynn's timely investigation highlights scientific studies grounded in publicly gathered data and probes the rhetoric these studies employ.
Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, pharma, and biopharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2016 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.
Three natural science professors win TJ Park Science Fellowship
Professor Jung-Min Kee (Department of Chemistry, UNIST), Professor Kyudong Choi (Department of Mathematical Sciences, UNIST), and Professor Kwanpyo Kim (Department of Physics, UNIST) are the recipients of the Cheong-Am (TJ Park) Science Fellowship of the year 2016.
More Science News and Science Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: The Biology Of Sex
Original broadcast date: May 8, 2020. Many of us were taught biological sex is a question of female or male, XX or XY ... but it's far more complicated. This hour, TED speakers explore what determines our sex. Guests on the show include artist Emily Quinn, journalist Molly Webster, neuroscientist Lisa Mosconi, and structural biologist Karissa Sanbonmatsu.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#569 Facing Fear
What do you fear? I mean really fear? Well, ok, maybe right now that's tough. We're living in a new age and definition of fear. But what do we do about it? Eva Holland has faced her fears, including trauma and phobia. She lived to tell the tale and write a book: "Nerve: Adventures in the Science of Fear".
Now Playing: Radiolab

The Wubi Effect
When we think of China today, we think of a technological superpower. From Huweai and 5G to TikTok and viral social media, China is stride for stride with the United States in the world of computing. However, China's technological renaissance almost didn't happen. And for one very basic reason: The Chinese language, with its 70,000 plus characters, couldn't fit on a keyboard.  Today, we tell the story of Professor Wang Yongmin, a hard headed computer programmer who solved this puzzle and laid the foundation for the China we know today. This episode was reported and produced by Simon Adler with reporting assistance from Yang Yang. Special thanks to Martin Howard. You can view his renowned collection of typewriters at: antiquetypewriters.com Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.