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Author ORCID Identifier


Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Computer Science

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Brian Levine

Second Advisor

David Jensen

Third Advisor

Phillipa Gill

Fourth Advisor

Shannon Roberts

Subject Categories

Information Security


The threat of cyber attacks is a growing concern across the world, leading to an increasing need for sophisticated cyber defense techniques. The Tularosa Study, was designed and conducted to understand how defensive deception, both cyber and psychological, affects cyber attackers Ferguson-Walter et al. [2019c]. More specifically, for this empirical study, cyber deception refers to a decoy system and psychological deception refers to false information of the presence of defensive deception techniques on the network. Over 130 red teamers participated in a network penetration test over two days in which we controlled both the presence of and explicit mention of deceptive defensive techniques. To our knowledge, this represents the largest study of its kind ever conducted on a skilled red team population. In addition to the abundant host and network data collected, we conducted a battery of questionnaires, e.g., experience, personality; and cognitive tasks, e.g., fluid intelligence, working memory; as well as physiological measures, e.g., galvanic skin response (GSR), heart rate, to be correlated with the cyber events at a later date. The design and execution of this study and the lessons learned are a major contribution of this thesis. I investigate the effectiveness of decoy systems for cyber defense by comparing performance across all experimental conditions. Results support a new finding that the combination of the presence of deception and the true information that deception is present has the greatest effect on cyber attackers, when compared to a control condition in which no deception was used. Evidence of cognitive biases in the red teamers’ behavior is then detailed and explained, to further support our theory of oppositional human factors (OHF). The final chapter discusses how elements of the experimental design contribute to the validity of assessing the effectiveness of cyber deception and reviews trade-offs and lessons learned.