Psychologist RATs on hackers

“We know a lot about real-world criminology. We don’t know anything about cyber juvenile delinquency," says cyberpsychology expert Mary Aiken.

“We know a lot about real-world criminology. We don’t know anything about cyber juvenile delinquency," says cyberpsychology expert Mary Aiken.

“A humanistic, cognitive psychology approach to hacking would be to consider an emotion such as revenge. But my favourite explanation for the academic literature is a Freudian psychoanalytic approach to hacking, which actually conceptualises hacking in Freudian terms as a cyber-sexual urge to penetrate. And there are castration complex overtones in terms of being cut off from the network as well.”

Mary Aiken knows what she’s talking about: she’s the cyberpsychology expert whose work was the inspiration for the TV show CSI: Cyber. In a speech at the Web Summit conference in Dublin, the director of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland’s CyberPsychology Research Centre said we still have a lot to learn about the motivations behind the hacks of companies such as Sony and TalkTalk.

“As a cyberpsychologist, I’m always asked: What is the motive to engage in hacking? The point is that hacking is a skill set,” said Aiken. She talked about the practice of routine activity theory (known as RAT) that studies crimes clustered around particular areas, and how they relate to the habits of the offender.

“We look at the offender, where they live, where they work and where they play, and effectively this is geographic profiling in a real-world context,” she said. “The victims will lie along those pathways between live, work and play, and you’ll see a buffer zone around where they work, live or play, which is really a self-protection mechanism for the offender.”

Aiken is applying this theory to the online world too. “If we think about the web as an environment – surface web, deep web – and think about offenders and organised cybercriminals. Where do they work, where do they live, and where do they play?

“We know a lot about real-world criminology. We know about a kid in a particular home in a particular neighbourhood with a particular group of friends that may get sucked into juvenile delinquency. We don’t know anything about cyber juvenile delinquency.

“What we have to question ourselves is, as a society, do we really want to criminalise 13-, 14- and 15-year-olds? Or do we want to understand their behaviour, engage with their incredible skill sets, mentor them and try to point them in the right direction?

“We have scales for IQ, CQ and EQ [intelligence, cultural and emotional intelligence] but we don’t have any scales for TQ – technology quotient. We need to measure those superb skill sets, and mentor and develop them. We have to figure out as humans how we’re going to engage with all things cyber.” – © Guardian News & Media 2015

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