UA Grad Student Channels Love of Mysteries into Cyber Future

By David Miller

Kevin Poorman, a graduate student studying criminal justice at UA, researches nefarious activities on “dark web” networks.

Sherlock Holmes’ witticisms, sharp intellect and investigative prowess have spawned many incarnations of the iconic fictional character. With each story, viewers and readers are immersed in the intricacies of detective work. For children like Kevin Poorman, the fantasies were endless.

Poorman, a Huntsville native and University of Alabama graduate student, had always enjoyed the critical thinking aspects and “mind games” of crime dramas. And by age of 15, his mind was set: he was going to work in law enforcement.

“I thought I wanted to be a police officer, so when I looked at criminal justice programs in the state, UA stood out,” said Poorman, whose parents graduated from Auburn University.

Poorman would later earn his undergraduate degree in criminal justice, but by that time his career goals had shifted from police work to law school. However, experiences in an undergraduate course steered Poorman in an entirely different direction.

Poorman is designing his own special topic class to be delivered in Fall 2017.

“I took ‘Intro to Cybercrime’ with Dr. Kathryn Seigfried-Spellar and loved it,” Poorman said. “I knew it would be the way of the world, and the more devices that are created, the more people use them, the more vulnerable they are. Criminologically speaking, looking at theory, it means more crime is going to happen. So I went to her to get a recommendation for grad school, and I was accepted.”

The timing was perfect for Poorman; UA had just launched its Joint Electronic Crimes Task Force, a cooperative research hub and digital forensics evidence lab located in Cyber Hall on the Bryce Property. UA’s department of criminal justice would soon expand its scope of cyber criminology with a minor program.

Poorman’s research and teaching opportunities would grow under the direction of faculty mentor Dr. Diana Dolliver, assistant professor of criminal justice and academic director of the JECTF. During Poorman’s first year of graduate school, the pair co-authored a cybercrime book chapter for a transnational crime textbook.

“You don’t think about something like that as an undergrad,” Poorman said. “But when it happens, it feels like it can happen again. The department does a good job of teaching you to get there and setting you up for that.”

Poorman has assisted Dolliver in researching weapons and drugs transactions in various marketplaces on the Tor network, software that allows users internet anonymity. Poorman has also researched Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, learning Pretty Good Privacy and Tails operating systems, Dolliver said.

“Kevin is one of the most driven graduate students I have worked with,” Dolliver said. “He is an engaged aspiring criminologist, taking on many different tasks related to my cyber research projects, classes and interns without hesitation, all while conducting his own cyber study for his thesis. It’s been a pleasure having him on my team.”

Poorman has been a teaching assistant for six different courses over the last two years. This fall, he’ll teach his own class, a special topic in large and small-scale global cyber threats.

“I have creative freedom, from the ground up,” Poorman said. “It’s nerve wracking creating my own course, but because of the last two years, I feel like I have a good head start. Being a TA has been a great opportunity; you learn what works and what doesn’t.”

Upon completion of his master’s, Poorman plans to purse a doctoral degree in cyber criminology.

The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.