The Stack Archive

Research investigates link between cybercrime and autistic traits

Mon 3 Apr 2017

A new study is seeking to investigate the connections between cybercrime and autistic-like personality traits – a link which remains contested and unproven.

The project will see the University of Bath’s Centre for Applied Autism Research, the charity Research Autism and the cybercrime unit of the National Crime Agency (NCA) examine the prevalence of autism among cybercriminals.

The research will address cybercrimes committed using a computer, computer network or other forms of IT, as opposed to ‘cyber-enabled’ crimes, such as fraud, which can be committed offline. The cyber-dependent crimes to be investigated will include hacking, malware, DDoS attacks and illegal activities on the ‘dark web’.

The team hopes to reveal important details on the nature and size of the issue, as well as information on which autistic traits are represented, the risk factors, and potential preventative measures.

In particular, the research sets out to focus on the pathways and motivating factors which influence people to conduct cybercrime. There is a growing concern that the challenges and sense of accomplishment attached to cybercrime may outweigh the consequences in some people’s minds.

The study will involve interviewing people convicted of cybercrime and those served with ‘cease and desist’ orders, as well as a large-scale survey across the general population.

‘A growing perception among law enforcement agencies suggests that a significant number of people arrested in connection with cybercrime may be on the autism spectrum. But whilst media coverage has helped to shape public perceptions about this issue there has, to date, been little in the way of systematic research to really unpick this idea,’ noted Professor Mark Brosnan of the Centre for Applied Autism Research.

He added: ‘Through our project, we will explore whether autistic traits are actually associated with computer-related abilities and cybercrime. Whatever the conclusion, our findings will have important implications for better understanding why people do – and indeed do not – engage in cybercrime.’

The NCA explained that understanding the profile of cybercriminals and the possible intervention points could help to inform its prevention activities. Richard Jones who heads up the NCA’s National Cybercrime Unite Prevent team said that the new project could have important international implications.


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