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An Assessment of the Current State of Cybercrime Scholarship


DOI: 10.1080/01639625.2013.822209

Holt, Thomas J, and Adam M Bossler. “An Assessment of the Current State of Cybercrime Scholarship.” Deviant Behavior 35.1 (2014): 20–40. Print.

p.21: Computers and the Internet have become a vital part of modern life across the world, affecting communications, finance, and governance. At the same time, technology has created unparalleled opportunities for crime and deviance on and off-line. Criminological research has expanded its focus over the last two decades to address the various forms of technology-enabled crime and the applicability of traditional theories to account for offending. There is, however, a need for careful consideration of the state of the field in order to identify issues requiring further study and analysis. This study examines the current literature on virtually all forms of cybercrime and the theoretical frameworks used to address these issues. In turn, we hope to give direction to refine our understanding of criminological theory and social policies to combat these offenses. -- Highlighted may 7, 2014

p.22: While there is no single, agreed-on definition of cybercrime, many scholars argue that it involves the use of cyberspace or computer technology to facilitate acts of crime and deviance (Grabosky 2001; Wall 2007). -- Highlighted may 7, 2014

p.22: Criminological research has expanded its focus over the last two decades to improve our understanding of the impact of technology on the practices of offenders, factors affecting the risk of victimization, and the applicability of traditional theories of crime to virtual offenses (Taylor et al. 2010). -- Highlighted may 7, 2014

p.22: Qualitative researchers have begun to develop innovative on-line data sets to examine offending populations in virtual spaces (see Holt 2010 for review). Quantitative methods employed by researchers have ranged from binary logistic and multiple regression models generated from convenience samples of college students (e.g., Higgins 2005; Holt and Bossler 2009), to structural equation modeling techniques (Higgins et al. 2006), to a small number of descriptive analyses of large nationally representative samples of youth (Jones et al. 2012). Researchers have also applied various traditional criminological theories to multiple forms of cybercrime with distinct operationalizations making it difficult to assess their overall impact on the field. -- Highlighted may 7, 2014

p.22: Here we assess the existing literature on various forms of technology-enabled crime using Wall’s (2001) four category cybercrime typology: (1) cyber-trespass; (2) cyber-deception=theft; (3) cyber-porn and obscenity; and (4) cyberviolence. This is considered one of the most comprehensive frameworks to understand the incorporation of technology into various forms of offending. -- Highlighted may 7, 2014

p.22: The first category within Wall’s (2001) typology is cyber-trespass, which encompasses the crossing of invisible, yet salient boundaries of ownership on-line. Specifically, if an individual attempts to access a computer system, network, or data source, without the permission of the system owner, they are violating a recognized border of ownership. -- Highlighted may 7, 2014

p.23: The exploration of the computer hacker subculture using qualitative data sources has been the primary avenue of research within this subcategory. These studies suggest hackers operate in a subculture that emphasizes both a profound connection to and deep knowledge of technology as well as demonstrations of mastery of computer technology and the social scene (Holt 2007; Jordan and Taylor 1998; Taylor 1999). -- Highlighted may 7, 2014

p.23: In addition, research has identified several predictors for participation in hacking. First and foremost, many hackers report exposure to technology early on in life, whether through playing video games or simple communications (Holt 2007; Schell and Dodge 2002; Taylor 1999). Many hackers also describe having a curiosity of technology that drives them to understand how technologies work at fundamental levels (Holt 2007; Jordan and Taylor 1998; Taylor 1999). Evidence also suggests that hackers have some capacity for self-management, though some report Type A personalities and anti-social tendencies. They also have higher creative scores on personality assessments and some analytic decision-making processes (Rogers et al. 2006; Schell and Dodge 2002). -- Highlighted may 7, 2014

p.23: Limited research using on-line data sources and social network analysis techniques demonstrate skilled hackers are central to larger social networks of less skilled actors (Decary-Hetu and Dupont 2012). Qualitative research suggests that virtual peer groups may be more significant because hackers may be unable to identify others in the real world who share their interests (Holt 2009; Holt and Kilger 2008; Schell and Dodge 2002). Regardless, peer relationships are correlated with involvement in hacking activities generally (Bossler and Burruss 2011; Holt 2009; Holt et al. 2010a; Skinner and Fream 1997). -- Highlighted may 7, 2014

p.24: In addition to deviant peer relationships, recent research has also begun to consider the role of self-control on the likelihood of involvement in hacking (Bossler and Burruss 2011; Gordon and Qingxiong 2003; Holt et al. 2012; Holt and Kilger 2008). Gottfredson and Hirschi’s (1990) General Theory of Crime argues that individuals with low self-control are impulsive, insensitive, non-verbal, present-oriented risk-takers who prefer simple tasks. As a consequence, they are unable to fully consider the consequences and benefits of their actions, making them more likely to engage in crime and risky behavior. -- Highlighted may 7, 2014

p.24: Holt and Kilger (2008) found that hackers in both college settings and in the general population had relatively high levels of self-control. Recent research by Bossler and Burruss (2011) found an interesting relationship between self-control, peers, and hacking. Specifically, hackers who had no peer relationships to other hackers reported higher levels of self-control. Individuals with peers who hacked had lower levels of self-control and benefitted from social relationships to reinforce their activities and learn methods of hacking (Bossler and Burruss 2011). Holt and colleagues (2012) found in a sample of middle and high school students that having deviant peer associations exacerbated the effect of low self-control on cyberdeviance in general, but that the significant interaction effect was not found for any of the five types of cybercrime they examined, including hacking. -- Highlighted may 7, 2014

p.26: The second category of Wall’s (2001) typology is cyber-deception and theft, which includes the use of the Internet to steal information or illegally acquire items of value, whether from individuals or corporations. This category is innately tied to cyber-trespass since malicious hackers frequently attempt to capture sensitive information and data through trespassing. -- Highlighted may 7, 2014

p.29: The third category of Wall’s (2001) cybercrime typology is cyber-porn and obscenity. This category encompasses the range of sexual expression enabled by computer-mediated communications and the distribution of sexually explicit materials on-line (DiMarco 2003; Wall 2001). -- Highlighted may 7, 2014

p.29: Finally, researchers have begun to explore the role of the Internet in facilitating social support networks and a subculture of pedophilia that engender sex offending (Durkin and Bryant 1999; Holt et al. 2010b; Jenkins 2001; Quayle and Taylor 2002). The Internet provides an anonymous mechanism for individuals to identify others who share their sexual proclivities that would not otherwise be possible in the real world (Holt et al. 2010b; Jenkins 2001). -- Highlighted may 7, 2014

p.30: Davies and Evans (2007) utilized a series of posts from a website designed for British escorts to exchange information to explore the issue of violence during paid sexual encounters. The findings suggest that not only do escorts experience physical violence and must take steps to mitigate this risk, but they also face electronic harassment, which has no immediate resolution. Thus, additional research is needed to expand our understanding of the experience of sex workers during paid encounters. -- Highlighted may 7, 2014

p.31: The fourth and final category in Wall’s (2001) cybercrime typology is cyber-violence, which includes the various ways that individuals can cause harm in real or virtual environments. Many researchers have begun to examine the use of the Internet to facilitate stalking, harassment, and bullying on-line (Bocij 2004; Holt and Bossler 2009). -- Highlighted may 7, 2014

p.32: Recent evidence from a multi-wave nationally representative sample of youth in the United States suggests that the prevalence of on-line harassment victimization has increased from 6% in 2000 to 11% in 2010 (Jones et al. 2012). This is lower than the rates of cyberbullying, with estimates generally between 30 to 35%, observed in convenience samples of youth (Marcum 2010; Hinduja and Patchin 2009). Similar variations are evident in reports of cyberstalking based on the operationalization of stalking, which range from 6.5% to over 30% in a nationally representative sample of college students (see Reyns et al. 2012). -- Highlighted may 7, 2014

p.33: Although the term "cyberterrorism" varies country to country, it typically includes the use of the Internet as an attack vehicle or communications vehicle to incite fear in and harm a population of non-combatants (Britz 2010; Brenner 2008). To that end, several studies have examined the use of the Internet as a mechanism to distribute harmful materials, such as manuals on attack techniques (Weimann 2005), promote agendas to the general public, and possibly recruit (Freiburger and Crane 2008; Weimann 2005). Much less research explores the use of cyberattacks against various targets by extremist groups. One example is Jordan and Taylor’s (2004) study in which they conducted interviews with a small number of hackers who were involved in hacks as a means to protest social and political policies. -- Highlighted may 7, 2014

p.33: Recent research by Holt and Kilger (2012) utilized a scenario-based survey mechanism within a sample of college students to document their willingness to engage in protest activities and extremist behaviors onand off-line. Although they found few correlates for willingness to engage in acts such as Web defacements and other forms of cyber-attack, one consistent predictor was a willingness to engage in activities in the real world. Thus, it may be that those who are likely to protest and engage in civil disobedience in one environment may do so in another (Holt and Kilger 2012). Further research utilizing demographically diverse samples could help to determine the influence of various attitudinal and behavioral factors on the willingness to engage in virtual and real acts of violence (Holt and Kilger 2012; Rege 2013). -- Highlighted may 7, 2014

p.34: As a whole, these studies have generally demonstrated that traditional criminological theories and postulates apply in virtual environments. Thus, this supports Grabosky’s (2001) supposition that cybercrimes may be "old wine in new bottles." Specifically, offenders may adjust their tactics to fit new environments, but the general nature of criminality in on-line spaces has not changed. -- Highlighted may 7, 2014

p.35: The jurisdictional issues evident also make it difficult for victims to know who may be responsible for the investigation of an offense. As a result, there is a need to understand how police agencies have adapted over time to respond to cybercrime calls for service. The current body of research primarily examines ways that police management perceives of these offenses (Hinduja 2004; Senjo 2004; Stambaugh et al. 2001), although a small number of studies explore these issues among line officers (Bossler and Holt 2012). These continuous changes require research exploring the awareness, perceptions, and preparation for dealing with cybercrimes from the vantage point of line officers and managers at all levels. These studies are pivotal to guide policy development to improve the resources available for law enforcement to increase their overall capabilities. -- Highlighted may 7, 2014