Experts probe link between autism and cybercrime

Research is underway to examine potential links between autistic traits and cybercrime.

Apr 3, 2017
Lynn Welsh, head of legal at the Equality and Human Rights Commission (Scotland).

Autism may be more prevalent among cybercriminals than other offenders, according to experts from the University of Bath.

By investigating potential connections between the developmental disorder, computer skills and offending, the researchers hope to better understand the motivations and characteristics of potential criminals.

The study, conducted with Research Autism and the National Crime Agency (NCA), could inform the national cybercrime Prevent response.

Professor Mark Brosnan said: “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.

Understanding the profile of cybercriminals and the possible intervention points that can stop offending will help inform our delivery of cybercrime.

“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 researchers believe some offenders might be influenced by the sense of challenge and accomplishment associated with these crimes, and that this could outweigh the consequences in their minds.

As a result, they also intend to examine risk factors that could lead to cybercrime activity and consider what preventative action can be taken.

Last year, Richard Mills, research director at Research Autism, warned that some autistic people are at risk of “drifting” into offending.

He claimed the majority of autistic ‘cybercriminals’ may not even know what they are doing is against the law because they do not see their behaviour from the same point of view as other people.

He added that some are being “exploited” by organised crime gangs for their skills at coding and recognising patterns.

The research is funded by Research Autism, Barclays and the NCA, and it is due to finish by October.

Richard Jones, head of the NCA’s National Cybercrime Unit Prevent team, said: “Understanding the profile of cybercriminals and the possible intervention points that can stop offending will help inform our delivery of cybercrime.

“We are very pleased to be associated with this project that will have national implications.”

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