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Scientist Catches Criminals Online

Roman Yampolskiy analyzes an online poker website in his research to catch criminals by monitoring their online behavior. Credit, Roman Yampolskiy

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Name: Roman Yampolskiy Age: 29 Institution: University of Louisville Field of Study: Behavioral Biometrics (Computer Science)

Roman Yampolskiy has chosen a career path that combines two often disparate fields, human behavior and computer science, to help find ways to catch criminals by monitoring their online behavior. From poker-website phishing schemes to coordinated website attacks, Yampolskiy looks at activity patterns to deduce who might be committing crimes online. More details, including articles about his work, are available at his website:

What inspired you to choose this field of study? I was always interested in better understanding people around me; I even had a psychology concentration as an undergraduate. After enrolling in graduate school I realized that the field of behavioral biometrics (profiling people's behavior for security purposes) offers me a great chance to combine my interest in investigation of human behavior with my desire to work with cutting edge computer technologies.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received? A good friend once told me: "Don't stress about problems. In life 50 percent of problems will resolve by themselves and there is nothing you can do about the rest."

What was your first scientific experiment as a child? When I was about 3 or 4 years old and had just learned numbers, I wanted to write down ALL the numbers sequentially starting with one. After I run out of paper in my notepad I discovered the concept of infinity and terminated my experiment which really disappointed my parents who by that time have grown attached to the peace and quiet associated with my scientific experiment. Not surprisingly they have encouraged me to pursue science ever since.

What is your favorite thing about being a scientist or researcher? Being a scientist means never having to grow up and lose curiosity inherent to all children. As a scientist I can always ask "why" about anything and in some cases be the first person to truly know that the answer is not "because."

What is the most important characteristic a scientist must demonstrate in order to be an effective scientist? A scientist believes that everything which has not been proven impossible may be possible, an effective scientist knows that nothing is impossible if you pick the right set of axioms.

What are the societal benefits of your research? Today behavioral biometric systems are utilized to provide enhanced level of security at border crossing, airports, workplaces and in numerous computer networks. It is predicted that in the near future majority of authentications tasks will be performed by relying on physical or behavioral biometrics. Results of my research in particular are aimed at financial institutions and online casinos trying to secure their customers from phishing (theft of identity) attacks.

Who has had the most influence on your thinking as a researcher? I have to say the founding father of computer science, Alan Turing, is the person who influenced my thinking the most. By helping allies win WWII by decrypting Nazi communications he showed that even theoretical mathematicians armed with computers could have an immediate positive impact on the world.

What about your field or being a scientist do you think would surprise people the most? Most people know about the stereotype of an absentminded scientist incapable of taking care of his most mundane needs while being a world famous export in his field. I myself was really surprised to learn that many accomplished computer scientists lack basic computer skills such as ability to read HTML enabled emails, open compressed files or update their own webpage.

If you could only rescue one thing from your burning office or lab, what would it be? My PhD diploma, I have multiple backup copies of everything else in my office securely located in remote locations.

What music do you play most often in your lab or car? I pride myself on the diversity of my musical tastes. I have numerous compiled CDs where Beethoven, ABBA and Eminem are located on neighboring tracks.

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