Indian American information scientist to social cyber forensics


The University of Arkansas at Little Rock is part of an international research cohort that has received about $2.35 million in funding from the Department of Defense to investigate the use of social cyber forensics to understand covert online influence.

The team is led by an Indian American information scientist, Dr. Nitin Agarwal.

This team is endowed with $691,339 for its part of the project, which initially began in February 2021 and is set to conclude by 2025.

Dr. Agarwal, professor of information science and director of the Collaboratorium for Social Media and Online Behavioral Studies (COSMOS), will serve as principal investigator for UALR along with Jerry L. Maulden-Entergy.

The four-year project, “Fusing Narrative and Social Cyber Forensics to Understand Covert Influence,” is headed by Dr. Scott Ruston, a research professor with Arizona State University’s Global Security Initiative. Additional research partners include Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and experts from Indonesia and the Philippines.

Countries can use the ease of information access via new media technologies to create manipulation through disinformation and propaganda, which can cause adverse effects on sovereignty and political stability the release said.

This research will help fill the knowledge gap the U.S. faces with regard to China’s engagement in “informationized” warfare, and will more broadly establish a model for effective analysis of strategic influence in the Middle East, Europe, and other regions.

“Increasing proliferation of social media provides tremendous opportunities for gaining situational awareness to assist with strategic policy making, particularly in defense, security, diplomacy, and foreign policy,” said Dr. Agarwal.

“However, social media data is often riddled with challenges such as high volume and velocity, noisy data, missing data, and incomplete data. This project will develop computational, systematic, and rigorous methods that are grounded in social science theories and cyber forensic methodologies to study big social media data and surmount the challenges.”

Dr. Bindu Nair, director of the Basic Research Office in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering said, “We live in a dynamic world, and many of the challenges we face are social or have social elements.”

The researchers will study online influence targeting Indonesia and the Philippines that uses narratives to manipulate public opinion and create political action favoring China. Subject matter experts in Indonesia and the Philippines will identify issues prone to influence in each country, as well as insight into online venues of influence, propaganda, and disinformation.

They will also analyze how narratives circulating in the information environment align with Chinese strategy and national interests.

Dr. Agarwal and his team at COSMOS will conduct social network and cyber forensic analysis to examine online activity and the dissemination of ideas and elements of these narratives. They will also observe virtual proxies of political action.

“The grant will allow us to develop research-based models and operationalize them in our social media monitoring tools, Blog Tracker and Video Tracker, to assist the United States defense in countering cyber-threats in an emerging socio-technical context, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region,” Dr. Agarwal said.