The research project “Youth Pathways into Cybercrime” was established to draw together existing recent evidence on online behavior and associations with criminal and antisocial behaviour amongst young people. Specifically, it was designed to explore the trajectories and pathways that lead to ‘cyber-criminality’ through a series of mixed-methodological endeavors and the integration of theoretical frameworks across criminology and psychology, including cyberpsychology and computer science. The potential pathway from technology talented curious youth, to cyber juvenile delinquent, to lone cybercriminal to organised cybercrime was considered.

The research was led by principal investigators Adjunct Associate Professor Mary Aiken, UCD Geary Institute for Public Policy, Professor Julia Davidson Professor of Criminology, Director of Research in the Department of Criminology and Sociology Middlesex University and Dr Philipp Amann, Senior Strategic Analyst Europol. The project is an initiative of Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3), stakeholders include INTERPOL, the UK National Crime Agency (NCA) and The Tavistock & Portman NHS Foundation Trust.

“This is a great example of leading edge transdisciplinary research applied to an urgent emerging societal challenge” Professor Phillip O Connell UCD Geary Institute

The research team reported their findings in October 2016, producing a white paper to inform policy in the area of juvenile cybercrime. The report considered four critical areas of understanding; criminology, developmental psychology, neurobiology, and the emerging realm of cyberpsychology, highlighting that these overlapping areas may be useful to law enforcement and industry in youth hacking prevention processes.

The report argues the importance of developing a Technology Quotient (T.Q.) in line with measurements of intelligence and emotion, in order to identify, nurture and mentor tech talented youth and emphasises the need to raise awareness of cyber juvenile delinquency in general, as well as the requirement to improve training and transparency in criminal justice processes and systems.

“We must take a developmental approach in the investigation of youth hacking behavior, we need to develop psychometric tests to enable educators to identify youth tech skills at an early stage – we could then focus on developing and rewarding this talent, and importantly provide guidance and incentives for positive and constructive use of cyber skill sets.” Dr Mary Aiken

The report highlights implications for youth who engage in criminal hacking behaviour and for their parents and caregivers. Many of these young people are ignorant about the severe custodial sentences that such crimes carry, as well as the possibility of extradition to the US to stand trial in the case of crimes committed against a US company or agency. The report provides key recommendations for policy and training, along with multi-disciplinary prevention, intervention and deterrence measures.

Recommendations for further research are outlined; exploration of youth cognitive processes and motivation to engage in hacking;  investigation of addictive type behaviours associated with the behaviour; development of additional ‘baseline’ training for rank and file law enforcement officers who deal with cyber juvenile delinquents; in-depth exploration of key principles of cybercrime victimisation and offending;  and further collaboration between and proactive work with industry and educators in order to develop a prototype educational awareness program that could be piloted and evaluated in schools.

Research report:

CNN report:

BBC news report

Independent Newspapers