Which road leads to cybercrime?


Everything starts very small and innocent behind a computer, until the perpetrator slips off into the dark side of the internet and only an exposure or an arrest brings the offender back to its senses. At least, that is the image many people have of cybercriminals, but does the career of a cybercriminal really start behind the keyboard? Sifra Mathijsse, junior researcher and lecturer, Wytske van der Wagen, assistant professor, and Tamar Fischer, associate professor, all a part of the Criminology department at Erasmus School of Law published an article about this in cooperation with Elina van ‘t Zand, assistant professor of Criminology at Leiden University.

Finding out in which way these cybercriminal careers develop is of great importance to reduce the increasing amount of cybercrime. There are multiple theories that could explain the start of a criminal career, but it is unclear whether these scenarios also apply to cybercrime.

The attraction of cybercrime

The research shows that adult cybercriminals mainly move up from traditional crime and use cybercrime as a new way of making money or taking actions with psychological trigger like vengeance. Initiating a cybercriminal career amongst youth seems to mainly originate from a technical explorative phase, gaming or from an offline setting like school. A combination of these factors also occurs.

The online environment in which cybercrime takes place seems to take away any social, technical, situational, and psychological barriers and inhibitions and the online environment therefore makes criminal behaviour so much more attractive. “Researching the relationship and interaction between these types of disinhibition is essential to completely understand the initiation of cybercrime”, according to Van der Wagen. “The fact that an anonymous individual can take down a complete system with the push of one button and not actually seeing the damage that it causes, makes committing cybercrime so much easier, both technically and psychologically. It feels like a game”.

Prevent or cure

The big role of digital context in the initiation of a cybercriminal career, demands more online supervision and guidance. Offering legal alternatives and guidance on the risks and boundaries of the online environment could help with the reduction of cybercrime amongst youth. Parents, schools, the government and the (legal) online (hackers) community, could potentially also have a positive impact.

“It is important that the youth are enabled to explore their digital curiosity within legal boundaries, for example through hacking competitions or an apprenticeship or workplace at a cybersecurity company”, according to Matthijse.” In this way they can contribute to society by improving the digital infrastructure and security of companies or organisations”.

Sifra Matthijsse, junior researcher and lecturer Criminology
Assistant professor
Wytske van der Wagen, assistant professor Criminology
Associate professor
More information

Read the full research article here (Dutch).

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