Seminar: Stress and Hacking: Understanding Cognitive Stress in Tactical Cyber Operations

Dr. Josiah Dykstra headshot



Josiah Dykstra,

Technical Director and member of the Senior Executive Service in the National Security Agency’s Cybersecurity Operations

Monday October 14, 2019

3 pm

Patrick F. Taylor Hall, Room 3107


Hacking is a high-risk, high-reward, with a high-cost to human capital. This talk will discuss effects of human factors in cyber operations and why practitioners should care about them. Specifically, the talk will focus on results of collaborative research at the National Security Agency that studied the effects of cognitive stress on tactical cyber operators.

A key motivation for this work was the intuition that cognitive stress may negatively affect operational security, work performance, and employee satisfaction. Operator fatigue, frustration, and cognitive workload increases significantly over the course of a tactical cyber operation. Fatigue and frustration are correlated, and as one increases so does the other. The longer the operation, the greater the mental demand, physical demand, time pressure, frustration, and overall effort needed to complete the operation. Operations longer than 5 hours have 10% greater increases in fatigue and frustration compared to shorter operations. We found no link of performance to operation length; that is, from the operator's perspective longer operations did not result in higher success. Knowing how these factors affect cyber operations has helped make more informed decisions about mission policy and workforce health.


Dr. Josiah Dykstra is a Technical Director and member of the Senior Executive Service in the National Security Agency’s Cybersecurity Operations organization. He is an active practitioner and researcher in cyber operations, cybersecurity science, and human factors for cybersecurity. Josiah has published and spoken around the world, including at Black Hat and RSA Conference. He holds a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Maryland Baltimore County where he studied digital forensics for cloud computing. In 2017, Dr. Dykstra received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS), Lifetime Member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), and founding member of the Cybersecurity Technical Group in the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES). He is the author of numerous research papers and one book, _Essential Cybersecurity Science_.