Security

A visual map of emerging cybersecurity trends

A study by TechRepublic and data firm Affinio reveals the social media communities and influencers talking about IoT, ransomware, bots, and other cybersecurity threats.

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Image: Affinio

Last year consumer, corporate, and political targets were hammered by ransomware extortion attempts, phishing excursions, and DDoS attacks. Driven by this slew of high-profile attacks, cybersecurity has rapidly emerged as a priority in 2017 for enterprise companies and SMBs.

To visualize emerging cybersecurity issues, TechRepublic and data firm Affinio sampled and diagrammed social media data from influential communities. TechRepublic previously used Affinio technology to better understand digital business trends, including voter priorities during the 2016 presidential campaign, how tech groups talk about Edward Snowden, and web media related to the Russian cyberattack.

Affinio extracts insights from web, mobile, and social media data. The company's algorithm grabs snapshots of naturally-forming user clumps and communities, then visualizes how each group is connected. For example, unsurprisingly, health care experts tend to communicate online with other health care experts. Affinio analysis shows that health care experts also communicate with information experts, tech news consumers, and digital marketers.

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Image: Affinio

This process is used by enterprise companies, said Affinio spokesperson Maura Woodman, because the data helps vertical industries better understand markets and "reveals interest-based communities within a broader audience." The approach is successful, she explained, because it "helps businesses to understand target audiences on a human level, and leverage those insights in a way that is repeatable, predictable, and scalable."

SEE: Cybersecurity spotlight: The ransomware battle (Tech Pro Research)

The company's machine learning technology continually ingests web and mobile content. The internal database relies on Microsoft's Azure cloud and allows the company to quickly process and visually express big buckets of data from diverse sources. "We are able to analyze billions of data points within an hour or two," said Woodman

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Image: Affinio

SEE: Russian hack almost brought the U.S. military to its knees (CBS News)

Though Affinio excels at Twitter analysis, the software is not limited to the social web and can be used to mine activity related to nearly any link or story, phrase, hashtag, username, and web page. "Our analysis reveals how the audience shakes up," said Woodman, "[including] interconnectedness, relevancy, psychographics, geographics, demographics, and the formation of ... communities and clusters." This helps enterprise brands grasp the shared traits between product audiences, drives content strategy, and identify potential partners and sponsors.

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Image: Affinio

From November 2016 to earlyJanuary 2017 TechRepublic and Affinio collaborated to mine the social web for insights about cybersecurity trends, topics, and influencers. We scraped two samples of Twitter data from 163,792 total users, including usernames, post content, time and date stamps, followers, and other meta information. Our search specifically sought to identify content types and topics, and the interconnectedness and density of conversation related to cybersecurity.

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Image: Affinio

Cybersecurity social demographics skew 66.1% male to 33.9% female, and ages 25 to 44 account for 70.1% of the active conversation. The vast majority of the industry chatters from the New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., Paris, and London metro areas, though Saudi Arabia, Latin America, Australia, and India are emerging as cybersecurity hotspots.

The top cybersecurity accounts—Glenn Greenwald, Nate Silver, Paul Krugman, Walt Mossberg, Kevin Morrissey, TechCrunch, the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and Ted—are also influential in technology, political, and cultural communities.

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Image: Affinio

According to the data, cybersecurity discussions trend equally amongst corporate information security experts, digital marketers, and political junkies. IT community conversations are somewhat isolated relative to policy wonks, who tend to frequently interact online with mainstream tech influencers. The Twitter data also shows a quick rise in the number of bots creating content and engaging in automated conversation related to cybersecurity issues.

SEE: How risk analytics can help your organization plug security holes (Tech Pro Research)

The cybersecurity industry is not an island, and appears to be dialed in to other hot tech and business trends. The Affinio data revealed that the industry as a whole is talking about malware and ransomware in healthcare and finance, political hacking, advances in artificial intelligence, the blockchain, and IoT vulnerabilities.

These trends will no doubt proliferate through other industries in 2017. SMBs remain particularly vulnerable to ransomware, IoT is a wide open target, and simple DDoS attacks can take entire cities offline. Social media and web data can provide valuable insight about emerging threats, technology trends, and defense experts. "Data can help [companies] understand the ecosystem of conversation," said Woodman. "[Data] gives you an edge."

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About Dan Patterson

Dan is a Senior Writer for TechRepublic. He covers cybersecurity and the intersection of technology, politics and government.

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