Louise Hurel

The nexus between security and technology: A Q&A with Louise Marie Hurel


Louise Marie Hurel S Dias is a PhD candidate in LSE’s Media and Communications Department and a speaker at the recent CIVICA conference Europe and the New Global Challenges.

What are you currently researching?

For many years now, I have been interested in the nexus between security and technology, how different actors, cultures and technologies crystalise particular understandings of what is seen as "desirable" and "necessary" security.

My doctoral project focuses on how different ideas about cybersecurity are contested in practice. This means, in short, that I am looking specifically at what "makes" a cybersecurity incident or attack, and how different communities of technical experts and policymakers negotiate their understandings in the process of responding to an incident. 

Why did you choose this area of study?

For the past seven years I have been engaging with multiple communities working in cybersecurity both in my research and experience working in think tanks. From diplomats to threat intelligence companies and technical experts (such as incident responders), all these interactions have provided me with a perspective of a dynamic and complex field of research. One that continually fascinates me.

How will your research improve or have a wider impact on society? 

Cyberattacks, data breaches, and ransomware attacks have become somewhat common in some major news outlets, with each headline claiming novelty or greater impact than the previous one.

There are rumours of US, China and Russian cyber operations, but what about other actors and countries beyond the "great powers"? Rather than an objective and linear process, defining an incident as such is as much reliant on a cultural context and in expert communities than in attributing an attack to a specific actor.

My project unpacks the politics of cyber incidents and invites a critical and contextualised approach that can also speak to realities in developing and Global South countries. 

What have been the highlights and challenges of your research work so far? 

One of the challenges many scholars working in security-related topics face is secrecy around the research. One needs to be even more careful with anonymisation of practitioners.

On the other hand, I cannot stress how grateful I am to all my supervisors and interviewees that were so very generous with their time in the worst days of the pandemic. I think there is a deeper reflection to be made of what it means to conduct research during a global crisis. The latest cyberattacks at times seemed very small compared to the losses people were experiencing. One needs empathy and care in doing research – and this is one of the precious learnings I was able to take from a challenging time.

You recently attended the CIVICA Conference exploring Europe and new global challenges. Can you tell us a bit more about this experience? 

I participated in a roundtable discussion “How can the social sciences help us face an uncertain future”. Initially, the discussion was going to focus on shifting narratives around authoritarianism and sovereignty in Europe and elsewhere. However, the war in Ukraine gave a new meaning to our debate.

We agreed that while the war has pushed for a militarisation of the EU and convergence of efforts to respond to the geopolitical crisis, it also highlighted the paradoxes around migration and the "good immigrant", for example.

I also highlighted how we have been witnessing a certain crowdsourcing of the battlefield both in terms of traditional economic aid, but most importantly in terms of experts using social media to collate Open-Source Intelligence or share tips on how civilians can protect themselves.

What advice would you give to prospective students on the most effective way to approach research and keep stress levels down?

We have been somewhat indoctrinated to see research as this mechanic and, at times, even linear process. I would say that humanising the research process is one of the little significant practices that has always helped me throughout my researching and writing journey.

My experience so far has been that having a group of people with who you can share experiences and seek advice, ­– both senior and younger scholars – can bring more of a sense of community to the PhD journey.

Finding research groups with people working on similar topics can also help keep you motivated and connect you with new ideas. Finally, don’t give up on your hobbies (as tempting as it might seem when faced with deadlines). Being intentional about making time for other things that make you happy are equally important for staying creative and healthy.  

This interview was published in the series of LSE’s researcher profiles.