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One fully funded 3.5-year PhD studentship in Maintaining online identity after a cognitive impairment: Experiences, challenges and solutions

Department of Computer and Information Sciences

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Dr S Nagaraja No more applications being accepted Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

Applications are invited from UK/EU candidates with undergraduate or masters qualifications (1st class) from students with any area relevant to cyber security including but not limited to Human Computer Interaction, Computer Science, Psychology, Digital Anthropology, Law, Engineering, Social Sciences. All studentships offer a generous tax-free stipend and tuition fees to support UK/EU (only) students. PhD scholars spend the first year undertaking comprehensive formal training followed by 2.5 years of focused research.

Research focus:

Summary: You will explore how to enable people who have been cognitively impaired through an accident or an illness to continue to use their online accounts through considering both

(i) supporting technologies and

(ii) online Power of Attorney which would legitimately enable a named person to help them.


Online accounts help people to keep in touch with family and friends, make social arrangements, share experiences and memories, manage their finances, access resources, and make use of government services. These accounts are password-protected and specific to each individual. They are - mostly - not intended to be shared.

So what happens when someone is incapacitated through an accident or an illness, and cannot use their accounts unaided due to cognitive difficulties? - for example, a brain injury or dementia.

Offline, the role of 'Power of Attorney' (POA) helps. One or more appointed people (known as 'attorneys') can help an individual to make decisions - or make decisions on their behalf if necessary. For example, they can access a person's bank accounts on their behalf.

Online there is no easy solution. Users who have developed a cognitive impairment may not be able to remember their user name or password, or even what accounts they have. Or they may struggle with using accounts once signed in. This is a problem, as they may lose access to their online accounts at a time when they could be really useful - for example in maintaining contact with friends, and applying for disability benefits.

It is not clear whether (and how) formal or informal Attorneys may interact with online accounts in these circumstances. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and online accounts are largely not set up to help existing users who have lost capacity. Technology based support - such as machine learning approaches to supporting users - are absent.

In this PhD research, you will explore some of the following areas, which sit at the intersection of Human-Computer Interaction, Cybersecurity and Law:

(i)    What are people's experiences of trying to access their online accounts after they are cognitively incapacitated?

(ii)   What are the differences in user requirements between temporary and permanent incapacity?

(iii)  Can Machine Learning be used to support people living with cognitive impairments to continue to interact online autonomously?

(iv)   How can ISPs and online platforms enable other people - or a technology-based tool - to access a user's accounts on their behalf, when that user is incapacitated?

(v)    How should online POA be activated? For example, through submission of medical evidence? How might global platforms manage this when POA may be different in each national jurisdiction?

(vi)   Should a user's profile signal to others that their online account is operated under POA? Consider for example how Facebook now identifies pages that have been memorialised: is something similar needed for POA?

(vii)  How can online Power of Attorney be incorporated into current legal and governmental practices and protocols regarding Power of Attorney?

(viii) What formal legal approaches to recognising Power of Attorney in online spaces exist, in the UK and internationally?


To apply for this, follow this link:

Please include a research proposal which describes your specific research topic in the direction of the above research focus. Also, mention the advertisement ('Power-of-Attorney in a digital age') and your supervisors' name (Prof. W Moncur and Dr. S Nagaraja) in your application.

Security group website:

The security group at Strathclyde has eleven full time security academics. The group aims to develop a cohort of students with expertise in systems security with links to statistics, psychology, human behaviour, and economics. The group has a thriving PhD program with over 35 PhD students working on Human Centred Security, Privacy Technologies, Cybercrime measurement, Malware, Anonymity, Machine learning, Industrial IoT security, and Cyber Law.

Important Dates:

This advert has a nominal end date of 25th March 2020, however we will make appointments as soon as we have identified candidates with the right background. We therefore recommend interested candidates to informally contact Prof. Wendy Moncur ([Email Address Removed]) or the group head Dr. Shishir Nagaraja ([Email Address Removed]) at the earliest.

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