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Current Cybercrime MSc student Kovelin Naidoo talks to Lisa Sugiura – Senior Lecturer in Criminology and Cybercrime at the University of Portsmouth – about career prospects in cybercrime, as well as discussing the future of an ever-evolving industry. 

Wednesday 4 May, 18:00 BST. 

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Video transcript

- Good evening, everyone. Welcome to our Q&A this evening. We've got about an hour today with one of our course leaders, Lisa Sugiura, and then Kovelin, who's one of our current students.

LISA SUGIURA: Thanks, Maddie. Yes, so I'm Dr. Lisa Sugiura. I'm the course leader for the MSc Cybercrime distance learning. I'm a senior lecturer in criminology and cybercrime. I'm also a fellow of the Institute for Research on Male Supremacism and the Deputy Director of the Cybercrime Awareness Clinic, which is an initiative that we run from the University of Portsmouth.

My main sort of research interests are gender and cybercrime, and I undertake research in the fields of technology-facilitated sexual violence and online gender abuse. And I've engaged in projects looking at the role of technology in domestic abuse, which was funded by the home office, as well as lots of research on the involuntary celibate, the incel community, which resulted in the publication of my book last year.

KOVELIN NAIDOO: Yeah. So I'm Kovelin Naidoo from South Africa. And pretty much, I've got about 23 years of experience in the technology world. I currently look after cyber risks for a large financial services institution in South Africa, and I've got a passion for all things cyber. And currently, as Maddie mentioned, I'm about to start the last leg of the journey in terms of dissertation, so exciting times.

So I would say it's a passion. I mean, I love what I do and I do what I love. And just one thing that I've learned over the years at the bank trying to catch bad guys and working with law enforcement, it is that all things cyber, cybercrime evolves faster than we can roll out solutions, whether we are a bank or law enforcement or policy makers.

And over the last five years, I've thought, well, there has to be a smarter way to do things. But I couldn't figure out what that smarter way was, because my domain knowledge sits in more the information security, the cybersecurity realm. So clearly, there was a gap that I needed to cover to answer this question a bit more. Because why are the bad guys innovating faster in the world of cyber than us?

And after searching far and wide, I came across the curriculum at Portsmouth and I found it to be pretty much the only curriculum that had an interdisciplinary view that covered all the bases that I would need to cover, including the domain that I understood.

And having been through a year in the course now, it's lived up to what I signed up for. And the great part was that it was also offered online, so I'm in South Africa, time zone difference. We all have full-time jobs. And the way the course was structured and the curriculum closes that gap of knowledge that I had.

MADELEINE LLOYD: Yeah. That's so interesting to hear you say, actually. Because it sounds like you come from a background with the technical knowledge of the security side of things, and it was specifically the people, the people doing the cybercrime essentially, that you were interested in finding out more about. Is that right

KOVELIN NAIDOO: Yeah. I mean, I'm sure folks listening in now, if you hear the word "cybercrime," immediately the first thing that's conjured up is the guy in a hoodie behind a keyboard. Right?


KOVELIN NAIDOO: And ransomware is probably the second thing that's going to come up. Right? And you wouldn't be wrong, because cybercrime has its roots in that technical computer science domain and it is a big problem out there. Right? But what we know as banks now is that, apart from those technical forms of cybercrime, we have a new scourge that's going relatively undetected in terms of cyber fraud. Right?

Very, very clever criminal organized crime groups out there who have evolved their thinking and their revenue streams, because these are businesses that they run. And we have these various forms of cyber, and I couldn't articulate that. And so being technical, we would immediately rush to fund defenses, technically speaking. We call them "blinking lights" in your CSOs or in your office space, trying to secure our users and customers.

But not to go technical, but those solutions don't seem to be sustainable. And I ask myself, why? Why is it we can't describe what the bad guy looks like? You can describe what the bad guy for the technical forms of cyber looks like, the guy in the hoodie. We can describe those elements of criminality, but we struggle to define the other bits.

And I kept asking the question, why? So I needed to understand why and to figure out how to address those issues, because that's where the sustainable solutions will come from. And my view is that, regardless if I've got a technology background, but there might be folks around the table who have a business background, who have a data science-- whatever it is.

And regardless of that background, the interdisciplinary approach that Portsmouth takes in terms of the understanding of cybercrime allows you to add value in your workplace. So I'm already adding value applying the stuff that we're learning back at my workplace, even though we're still busy with dissertation. Yeah.

LISA SUGIURA: Initially, my undergrad was law. And I was all set to become a lawyer and realized, when I went into practice, that that wasn't for me. So went back and studied a master's in criminology. And it was that time that I thought I want to become an academic. Bit masochistic of me, but I thought, well, let's try that. And realized I wanted to do a PhD, so I then studied something called "web science."

So Kovelin talking about interdisciplinarity, the whole ethos of that degree was very much about the understanding the impact of the web on society but also vice versa, how society has shaped the web. And so I went in to that as a lawyer, as a criminologist, and researched sub-online deviance and how people were using technology to do things that they shouldn't have. They were manipulating digital tools to abuse each other and things, and that sort of led me then on to kind of specializing and researching in this field. So I very much came from that social sciences, humanities perspective.

But as Kovelin eloquently highlighted, to really understand this field, you do need to have the different disciplinary approaches and understandings and methodologies. Because the cybercrime is obviously representative of everything, of all those disciplines online and then through technology. Yeah. It's really important that we integrated that into the course, and that's what we did in the design of it as well.

The course is obviously situated within a criminology school. So at the core, there's obviously that. But then everything, the content, really draws on all of those different disciplinary perspectives to give that holistic understanding and bridge those gaps really as well between technology and the human dimensions of cybercrime.

When I looked at the curriculum and, as I said, the main sort of area that drew me in was that sort of interdisciplinary domain, which is great. Right? Because we want to be future-proofed in terms of the knowledge that we gain so that we can apply it in different ways. So the interdisciplinary approach was very key.

And I think just the interfacing with the academics and facilitators, et cetera, and that personal touch with everyone going the extra mile and I'm sure everyone gets the same service, but you feel welcome. So I'm all the way on the other end of the world, and this is my university. And if there's a problem and there have been several hiccups along the way, I know that people's doors are always open to help.

And so that personal touch, the curriculum, and having the knowledge that whatever I'm doing and gaining is going to be future-proofed in my workplace, in my thinking, and I and I get to break new ground. And that's, I think, the single most important thing. I didn't want to do a post-grad qualification and sort of just keep that knowledge on the shelf. I really got in to ensure that I'm able to craft out knowledge in a gap that's able to contribute to the world.

Depending on what you do, I mean, I engaged a lot with now academics that are looking at a similar kind of gap that I'm interested in as well as a lot of law enforcement, the US law enforcement, the UK law enforcement around organized crime. And what I find is that the law enforcement folks also have a similar gap. Their domain of knowledge with regards to law enforcement policy, et cetera, it also has a lot of routes that takes a lot of direction from the criminology aspects of cybercrime. Right

But law enforcement globally, and very generically speaking, not always the case, when we still have a lot of 19th century kind of thinking and law enforcement techniques. Right? So if we all have gaps-- and that's what I've noticed in terms of being able to articulate and understand the new and evolving forms of cybercrime. Right? We have these gaps, and we're struggling to try to close those gaps.

Because what we typically would do is, if I'm in law enforcement, I'd go to a law enforcement type system to see what sort of training's available to bolster my knowledge. But that knowledge doesn't exist in the form that you require it. Same with me. I go to the computer science domain. It's a rabbit hole. It's a plethora of solutions and people wanting to sell you stuff, snake oil salesman, et cetera. But very little is based in academia, methodology, theory, which is what we need to guide us here. Right?


KOVELIN NAIDOO: So regardless of where you are in your career, going through a post-grad like the one offered at Portsmouth I have no doubt will help you not only bolster a step up in your current career progression but will also help you in terms of dumping professions. We've always been geared to, oh, this is the only thing you can do in life.

And I think cyber's going to teach us otherwise, because the bad guys don't come in thinking that, I can only pull off one type of scam. Right? They're kind of specialists in everything at the moment. So you can come in being a C level and you can leave being a criminologist. And I think that offers you that flexibility, which very few other post-grad degrees do.

We've got, I suppose, students with varied backgrounds in my cohort, all in full-time employment. We've got data analysts. We've got folks at the home office, law enforcement at various levels. And I think, as we've delved into sort of possible dissertation topics, et cetera, a lot of them are focused on things like misinformation, disinformation, or understanding deviancy behind things like cyber bullying or the legal aspects in terms of, are the policies that we have strong enough, robust enough to tackle the issues of cybercrime in terms of the modern forms of cybercrime that we're experiencing?

And I think we're all at this stage where we wouldn't have been able to understand that there was a gap there 12 months ago, but the modules are structured in such a way that it breaks it down in its various forms. It tells the social aspects, the technology, policy, transnationalism, et cetera.

Yeah. I think the guys are very engaged. We have our own WhatsApp group, and we're always like on it with each other because each one of us has our strengths. I might have a technology background, but I know there's another Joe in my team and he's got a very strong data science background, data modeling background and those are tools, whether we're using it in our research methodologies or kind of work smarter, like we chatted about maybe earlier on.

Yeah. I think the group is quite efficient. And in terms of research topics, there's still a lot of questions with some of my cohorts. But I think we can help solve a lot of them now as well.

So I think more of the formal weekly kind of knowledge bites that we need to get through, through whatever module we're busy with, that's all enabled through the Moodle platform and in student engagement that we have on there. And I think the weekly webinars, they're flexible enough. So if you miss it, it's recorded with all the interactions.

But if you're there, it's even great because I'll always end up talking too much in those webinars. But I think it's adaptable. The core content for the week is delivered, but it's not death by PowerPoint. You're just given the space to talk about stuff. The week might have covered disinformation, AI, and misinformation, et cetera. And we would bring in the context of Russia and what's going on in Ukraine now and how that's being used, real-life examples.

And the subject advisors, et cetera, and lecturers are great, because they allow that interaction and we tend to learn from each other. Especially when you have a new cohort coming in with the next cycle, because they have different backgrounds and you kind of sync up for that module and it's like, oh, OK. Because I think our group now kind of buys in our thinking, because we kind of know each other.

All of a sudden, we've got someone in Greece now and this person's a forensic person. Like it comes in with a total different mindset about whether it's human trafficking or applying what we're learning to the real. So it's been awesome, and I think it's a combination of technology platforms as well as the WhatsApp. Because we're also human and we're also busy and we get caught up with life. Only it's panic stations when your artifacts are due and, what's the word count, this or that? Yeah. And that's on WhatsApp or phone calls or whatever the case may be there.

LISA SUGIURA: So because this is obviously distance learning, I think having that motivation to undertake self-directed study at some point as well I think is really important. Obviously, the beauty of distance learning is there's an element of flexibility. With this course, there's also the structuring. Each week, you get the content. But of course, you're not tied in to having to do that at a particular time, at a particular place like you would be on campus.

But at the same time, that flexibility also needs a sense of that own kind of personal kind of organization and efficiency. So there is an element of that. I just think passion and enthusiasm go so far as well. I mean, somebody like Kovelin, who is like an exemplar student here, just being so interested in the topic and having that love of learning and wanting to know more about it and embracing it.

I mean, I think that's going to set you up on the path of success, really. I mean, obviously, there's academic skills that come in handy, obviously. Being prepared to read, being prepared to obviously spend that time engaging with academic literature and lots of other resources is obviously important. But I really do think at the core of it is that enthusiasm as well.


LISA SUGIURA: Yeah. And I think something that Kovelin touched on as well, where he said about taking part in those discussions with your fellow students. I think be willing to embrace that, wanting to share ideas, wanting to listen to others, wanting to learn from people.

Folks are so welcoming, especially with the proverbial rabbit hole and sort of questions. Lisa and myself chatted about the topic that I'm looking at. And I've literally looked at my literature reviews, and I look at certain books that could lead me down a specific route. and literally, I said, well, this is actually profound, a particular statement that this academic made.

And I would literally just email the academic or the author of the book, and I'll get a response. I was like, there's someone from Oxford. Here's someone from Harvard. And accomplished academics and authors and, for me, being a non-academic, that's like the equivalent of taking your favorite superhero and being able to phone them up and they don't know you from afar. because it's this great knowledge that sits there.

And sometimes, it's marketed in various ways, but it's these gems that sit there and we need to now bring these things to life. But in asking those questions and sound boarding, in my mind, it might be completely silly in terms of that particular thing I'm trying to solve, but it's just been so valuable. I mean, every month, I think, so far since Lisa and I spoke, I've been reaching out to folks.

Lisa, I spoke to Anita Lavorgna the other day, just literally email and like, cool, let's do it next week. And this person has written stuff about the mafia and all sorts of stuff. And more seriously, that's knowledge that I can learn of. It's fast-tracking where I need to go in terms of the difference that I want to actually make in my final dissertation.

And I found that very welcoming, but you just have to be brave and understand. I know that, like Lisa said, I'm learning every single day. And I think the support system is there if we are willing to lead, and you've got to wake up and take the first step, though.

In no way are students disadvantaged by studying this subject online rather than on-campus. All of the same opportunities, and I would even say more, are available on this course. So I mean, you have access to so many different people who support you through different aspects of the course, and everybody is available as well. And I just think that, as what Kovelin said, that, if people are willing to reach out and utilize that, then I think you should be successful on this course really. Obviously, it's better for you to just do some research.

What we are concerned about, technology is evolving at the rate of light. Right? And cyberspace is a concept that's well unpacked in the module when you go through the course. In 10 years' time, the internet as we know it is going to be very different. We hear about concepts of the metaverse and interacting in virtual worlds and NFTs and crypto, which sounds mind-boggling right now. Right?

But in 10 years' time, these are concepts that are going to be mature and it's going to make the internet that we know now looks like black-and-white TV, because we'll be consuming it in different ways. How do you solve a crime in a metaverse if someone's gotten scammed out of-- you're virtually working in a panic in the metaverse. Right?

So this allows you that foresight, because we cover all of those concepts and it's based on current theory that's available. We can start applying it in our thinking. So technology is a force multiplier. Innovation in cyber space is going to force innovation in criminality in all aspects of cybercrime. And I think folks going through this post-grad course will be equipped with the knowledge they need to tackle those kind of crimes or forms of deviance from all angles.

LISA SUGIURA: Campus-based students who study essentially the same sort of materials have gone into counterterrorism roles or other sort of roles within law enforcement, both as a police officer or as a civilian. Then there's been civil service as well. So we had one student who's working in the Department of Culture, Media, and Sport. I know that some international students have gone on to sort of similar roles in various different countries as well.

I think because of the onus on things like data protection and compliance that I think people go into those sorts of roles and that can be for a myriad of different organizations as well, so retail or the NHS, for example. I've seen people go to work in the charity sectors as well. So think about the research and work that I do, so supporting victims of cybercrime as well.

Behavioral analyst roles as well for things like the National Crime Agency. I've seen the National Cyber Security Center. But the thing is there's lots of different sorts of jobs you can go into with these skills, because, as both Kovelin and I have mentioned, cyber is intrinsic now through society. This is the digital world we live in, so having that understanding, that specialism, I think can really add a different dimension to so many different roles.

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