SoDis

Pepita Barnard is a Research Associate at the Horizon Digital Economy Research and has recently submitted her PhD thesis.


post by Pepita Barnard (2014 cohort)

I am excited to be working with Derek McAuley, James Pinchin and Dominic Price from Horizon on a Social Distancing (SoDis) research project. We aim to understand how individuals act when given information indicating concentrations of people, and thus busyness of places.

We are employing a privacy-preserving approach to the project data collected from mobile device WiFi probe signals’ data. With the permission of buildings’ managers and relevant Heads of Schools, the SoDis Counting Study will deploy WISEBoxes in a limited number of designated University buildings, gather the relevant data from the Cisco DNA Spaces platform, which the University has implemented across its Wi-Fi network, and undertake a gold standard human-count.

What are WISEBoxes? There’s a link for that here

Essentially, WISEBoxes are a sensor platform developed as part of a previous Horizon project, WISEParks. These sensors count the number of Wi-Fi probe requests seen in a time-period (typically 5 minutes) from unique devices (as determined by MAC address). MAC addresses, which could be considered personally identifiable information, are only stored in memory on the WISEBox for the duration of the count (i.e. 5 minutes). The counts, along with some other metadata (signal intensities, timestamp, the WiFi frequency being monitored) are transmitted to a central server hosted on a University of Nottingham virtual machine. No personally identifiable information is permanently stored or recoverable.

We will have ‘safe access’ to Cisco DNA Spaces API, meaning MAC addresses and other identifiers will not be provided to the SoDis research team. The data we gather from Cisco DNA Spaces API will be processed to produce information similar to that gathered by the WISEBoxes, i.e. counts of number of unique users connected to an access point in a period of time.

To develop our ‘busyness’ models, we will also deploy human researchers to count people in designated buildings and spaces. This human-counting element will provide a gold standard for said buildings, at the time of counting. This gold standard can then be modelled against data simultaneously produced from WiFi signal counting methods, producing an estimated level of busyness.

With the help of several research assistants, we will collect 40 hours of human-counting data, illustrating building activity over a typical workweek. We expect to start this human-counting work in the School of Computer Science Building mid-January 2021.

This gold standard human-count will include both a door count and an internal building count. For each designated building, we will have researchers posted at the entrances and exits to undertake door counts. The door counters will tally numbers of people going in and numbers going out within 5-minute intervals using + and – signs. On each floor, researchers will count people occupying rooms and other spaces in the building (e.g., offices, labs, atrium, corridors). Each space will be labelled by room number or name on a tally sheet. Researchers will do two rounds of their assigned floor per hour, checking numbers of people occupying the various spaces. Different buildings will require different arrangements of researchers to enable an accurate count. For example, to cover a school building like Computer Science on Jubilee, we will have 6 researchers counting at any one time.

We expect some of the data collected from the WiFi probes and connections to be spurious (noise), however this is not of concern. Why? Well, to represent busyness, we do not need to worry about exact numbers.

It is accepted that the data may not be accurate, for example, someone’s device may use or send a WiFi probe signal to an access point (AP) or WISEBox in the designated building who is not actually in the building. This potential for inaccuracy is a recognised feature of the privacy-preserving approach we are taking to model busyness for the social distancing tool, SoDis. The researchers undertaking the human-counting study may miss the occasional person roaming the building, but this level of error is not of particular concern. When the human-count is triangulated with the sources of WiFi data, a model of busyness for that space will be produced.

The approach we are testing is relevant not only to our current desire to reduce infection from COVID-19 but may also prove useful to support other health and social causes.

Does our psychology impact our perceptions of COVID-19?

post by Vanja Ljevar (2017 cohort)

We all have a mixture of psychological traits, but we also have similarities with other people. This research was conducted to examine how people with specific psychology characteristics react to COVID-19. Who are they, what are they like and — what are they afraid of the most?


2020 has been marked by Coronavirus and by this point in time we all found our ‘methods’ of dealing with the situation. The motivation behind this research was to highlight different perspectives that exist about Coronavirus: we are all worried about something, but we also have different priorities.

511 people were surveyed and K-Means clustering was made based on their psychological traits, demographics and fears related to COVID-19. These people can be best described with 3 groups and to respond to the question from the title, yes, there are some similarities and differences between them. Everybody is worried the most about dying (as a result of getting and spreading the virus). However, our priorities change after that, depending on what kind of personality we have.

Photo by Mathieu Stern on Unsplash

Critical and reserved care about their finances, paying the mortgage and losing their job more than non-critical people. There are also many implications about why taking care of our mental health during this period is equally important as taking care of our physical health. Anxious people worry about the quality of their relationships and their own mental health much more than calm people. This emphasises the effect of mindfulness. This was described in the segment of ‘Mindful Empaths’, who are worried but dealing with the situation by finding their peace and optimism. On another hand, the ‘Realists’ are worried about pretty much every aspect of the virus, but their worry could arguably quickly grow into anxiety.

As a take away for future interventions, it would be worth examining the segment of ‘Relaxed Players’. This segment of young people (who like to exercise a lot) seems to be the least worried about spreading the virus. However, this research is, first and foremost, an invitation for everyone to reflect on their own traits and needs during these trying times. They are, apparently, different for all of us, but taking care of ourselves has never been so crucial. We all need to listen more closely to what we need to do for ourselves— whether it is to go for a run, invite our friend for a socially-distant walk or simply, make a plan for our finances with a warm cup of tea.

So, which group do you relate the most?

–originally posted on Vanja’s blog

Covid-19 and Cybercrime

Post by Neeshé Khan (2018 Cohort)

After being in self isolation for what feels like an eternity like many others I am also starting to get warped for what time it is. It’s hard for me to remember when things happened or which day we’re on. I’m experiencing a weird fatigue setting in which is the same for many of the people I’ve been speaking to, despite LinkedIn being on steroids. The fatigue also means that I’m finding it hard to find inspiration to write this blog but here we are – it’s Friday and things must get done. So, welcome to another blog post!

In my earlier posts I wrote about remote working and some pitfalls this could bring for your cybersecurity during Covid-19. Unsurprisingly, as more people have shifted to working from home (WFH) cyberthreats have been on a sharp increase. Some of you might be aware of Zoom (group meet up software) vulnerabilities that allowed hackers or unauthorised users to attend closed sessions which quickly became known as Zoom Bombings. Some kids innocently did some Zoom Bombings to prank their teachers while hackers used this to cause disruptions to virtual classrooms in Singapore.

The National Centre for Cyber Security (NCSC) and the National Centre in the US have issued a joint statement this month to announce that cybercriminals are using Covid-19 themed content to lure in users that are then cyberattacked.

This really shouldn’t be a surprise. There was an interesting mapping done by one of the US universities that showed how the virus moved across the US after spring breakers partied and went back to their respective homes. In the UK there have been several news stories on the BBC talking about an app by the government which will track Covid-19 infections. Given this context it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see what the easiest bait is for a cybercriminal. To me it’s the same as discussing that you’re planning to upgrade your home with new windows in public places (either online or in real life) and then suddenly seeing adverts that talk about a local window company or worse, getting cold calls from them. Plus, with a pandemic that’s sucker punched economies, had impacts that were unforeseen or unknown and where you have authorities proactively conceal the number of infections, it’s not surprising that Covid-19 becomes an interesting concept to explore, track and be ‘in the know’ for.

So, what can you do to stay safe online. I would suggest reading the news once or twice a day from a trusted source, ideally in static text (such as articles as opposed to interactive graphs), avoid disclosing your location to check the number of cases in your local area and always be wary of clicking links that are from people you don’t know. Even if the links are from people you might frequently speak with, be alert and notice if something ‘doesn’t feel right’ because their account could’ve been hacked. Trust your instincts with content online, listen to that small voice in your head that’s usually right and try to supress (if not temporarily extinguish) your curiosity for the time being. While you’re focusing on suppressing your curiosity, practice some mindfulness or Netflix binge watch the Tiger King.

Stay safe and my best wishes your way. Until next time!

–originally posted on Neeshé’s blog