A Basic Set of Mental Models for Understanding and Dealing with the CyberSecurity Challenges of Today


For most people, cybersecurity is a difficult notion to grasp. Traditionally, cybersecurity has been considered a technical challenge, and still many specialists understand it as information security, with the notions of confidentiality, integrity, and availability as its foundation. Although many have searched for different and broader perspectives, the complexity and ambiguity of the notion still thwarts a common understanding. While the author was developing and executing a MSc cybersecurity program for professionals with a wide variety of backgrounds and widely differing views on cybersecurity, the lack of a common understanding of cybersecurity was clearly evident. Based on these observations, the author began seeking and defining a new, transdisciplinary conceptualization of cybersecurity that can be widely agreed upon. It resulted in the publication of three scientific papers. This paper is an amalgam of the contents of the three supplemented with some extensions. It turned out that the previously introduced description of two key notions, cyberspace and cybersecurity, is still an adequate starting point. Described here is a set of additional mental models elaborating on these key notions and providing more detail on their meanings. The research suggests that this set of mental models strongly supports the description and analysis of current cybersecurity challenges and helps people understand how everyone, in his or her various roles, can contribute to reducing the related cyber risks. These claims are supported by presenting the modeling and analysis approaches of various MSc-thesis research projects executed by students when working on practical cybersecurity problems both within and outside their organisations. The author further discovered that, for a limited set of cybersecurity challenges, it was not yet possible to identify adequate mental models; this defines the agenda for future research. 


Photo of Jan van den Berg

Cybersecurity Chair
Delft University of Technology & Leiden University Delft & Leiden,

Jan van den Berg started studying mathematics and physics at Delft University of Technology in 1970. In 1977, he received the diploma of Mathematical Engineer. From 1977-89, he lectured courses in mathematics, physics, and computer science in institutes of higher education in The Netherlands, and mathematics and physics at the secondary school of Nampula (Mozambique). From 1989-2006, he worked at the Econometric Institute of Erasmus University Rotterdam, lecturing courses in computer science and economics, and did research in computational intelligence, with applications in combinatorial optimisation, finance, agriculture, philosophy, bibliometrics, among others. He finalised his PhD-thesis entitled ‘Neural Relaxation Dynamics’ in 1996. From 2006 up till now, he works at Delft University of Technology, mostly on topics related to (Big) Data Analytics and Cyber Security. On July 9, 2013, he was appointed as full Professor of Cyber Security at this university. Until January 1, 2019 he also acted as Scientific Director of the Cyber Security Academy, The Hague. On May 26, 2015, Van den Berg was also appointed as full Professor Cyber Security within the Institute for Security & Global Affairs (ISGA) of Leiden University.

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