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The psychology of cybercrime
The psychology of cybercrime

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4 What are the motivations for cybercrime?

In this section you will move to consider the reasons that have been identified to explain cybercrime. When looking at the motivations, the key aspects to consider are:

  • Individual differences (e.g., personality traits)
  • The context of the online environment
  • The characteristics given by observers to those performing the various types of cybercrime.

Psychological research has been able to identify personality correlations of self-reported cyber-criminality or trolling, particularly the ‘dark tetrad’ of personality which includes the personality traits of narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy and sadism. Buckels et al. (2014) used personality inventories to assess these traits; hence these are not clinical assessments. They found that sadism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism all predicted trolling behaviour, with sadism being the strongest predictor. Similarly, Craker and March (2016) found psychopathy and sadism to be predictors of trolling on Facebook. In their research, Craker and March also included a measure of negative social potency (obtaining social reward from negative actions), and this was found to be a stronger predictor of Facebook trolling than any of the personality characteristics.

In a nutshell, cybercriminals’ motivations are wide-ranging, and it depends on the crime being looked at. For instance, all cybercrimes linked to ransomware, phishing, online financial crimes, online fraud, password cracking, malware, hacking, sextortion are mainly motivated by financial gain but for some of them motivation can be due to pranks, activism, cyber theft, espionage (e.g. malware). Cybercrimes against the person such as cyberstalking, cyberbullying, trolling, revenge pornography are likely to be motivated by hatred, desire to inflict pain and harm to either known or unknown individuals, groups or community. Lastly, for image related crimes, it could be motivated by a desire to control, to intimidate, sexual gratification, social status building (Henry, Powell, and Flynn, 2017).

As you can see, cybercriminals’ motivations are largely determined by the crime itself and due to the versatility of the different online crimes, it is difficult to consider the motivations for cybercrime on a general level. Additionally, research around motivations for cybercrime can be difficult to investigate because it relies to some extent on the words of criminals who may not see their behaviour as being deviant (e.g. such as in the case of trolling), they may not wish to disclose their reasons for engaging in criminal activities, or may not have complete insight into their own motives.