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Portrait of a researcher

Tracking down cybercriminals

Benoit Dupont

SCHOOL OF CRIMINOLOGY

Scientific Director of the Smart Cybersecurity Network and holder of the Canada Research Chair in Cybersecurity

The expansion of new technologies and their widespread adoption are creating tremendous security risks for organizations and citizens alike. Benoît Dupont, a Professor in the School of Criminology, turned his attention to this topic in 2006, at a time when the theme of cybersecurity was just emerging in the scientific community. Today he is considered one of the pioneers in this field.

“Every day, decisions about computer security affect millions of people. But those decisions aren’t always founded on science,” Dupont laments. “Our research aims to fill in the knowledge gap.”

For instance, it seems self-evident that changing passwords regularly can enhance security in organizations. Yet the research shows that this isn’t true. “We are unwittingly encouraging employees to choose simple passwords that are easy to figure out. It would be much better to have a single, complicated password that needs to be changed only if there is a security breach,” he explains.

Cybersecurity is a truly multidisciplinary field, and draws on other disciplines at Université de Montréal, in particular social sciences, computer engineering and law. And thanks to Dupont, the School of Criminology is a key player in the Smart Cybersecurity Network, which brings together 36 researchers from 22 universities across Canada, along with some 20 public- and private-sector partners.

What do you find so fascinating about studying cybersecurity?

My colleagues and I are experiencing the digital revolution – a period that will prove to be as transformative as the industrial revolution – from the inside. We are getting to watch history being made.

What are the main threats when it comes to cybercrime?

It’s hard to say. Technology is evolving quickly, and criminals are often the first ones to adapt. There’s the risk that the huge advances on the horizon – intelligent cities, self-driving cars, the Internet of things, artificial intelligence – will open the door to unprecedented computer attacks. Some devices connected to the Internet, like security cameras, are very poorly protected, and can be used to launch attacks.

What role can cybercrime researchers play?

We are embarking on the digital revolution, but in many respects our laws and institutions are still rooted in the industrial revolution, since that is when they were created. By sharing our research findings with public- and private-sector organizations, we are helping society make the necessary transition.