A new research project launching today is set to explore the link between cybercrime and autism or autistic-like traits.
The University of Bath’s Centre for Applied Autism Research will lead the research, with charity Research Autism and the cybercrime unit of the National Crime Agency (NCA) also involved.
Law enforcers are increasingly aware that those arrested for such crime may be on the autistic spectrum, but so far there’s been no systematic research on the matter, according to Bath University.
“Research Autism is seeking to undertake a research project to explore the profiles of cyber offenders and their pathways into such offending. This will also provide important information on the nature and size of this issue, the degree to which autistic individuals are represented in these offences. The project will also seek to identify possible risk factors that lead to cybercrime activity, and timely preventative and diversion measures.”
Bath University researchers will look to study three groups of 30 individuals: one will consist of people convicted of cybercrime offences; one will be of general offenders and one will be a non-offender group.
“Through our project we will explore whether autistic traits are actually associated with computer-related abilities and cybercrime,” explained professor Mark Brosnan of the Centre for Applied Autism Research. “Whatever the conclusion, our findings will have important implications for better understanding why people do – and indeed do not – engage in cybercrime.”
As well as identifying whether those on the autistic spectrum are more vulnerable to cyber offending, the project will aim to understand pathways into cybercrime in order to boost prevention efforts, alongside raising awareness of these issues among law enforcers.
Katie Chodosh, co-founder of autistic art fundraiser Artism by Jake, told Infosecurity Magazine that it’s important to put the research into context.
“Autistic people have been known to be at greater risk of becoming a victim of cybercrime as they can take ransomware and phishing threats literally. That said, autistic people have also proven themselves assets in the field of computing, with Microsoft and the Israeli Defence Force specifically recruiting autistic people,” she argued.
“It is a shame that this report is focused purely on the criminal element. Disabled people have long been portrayed as either a hero or a villain and the positioning of this research disappointingly echoes that. It’s not all negative as hopefully the research will encourage a more scientific basis for linking autistic people to cybercrime, with a practical outcome to help those people find jobs in the information security industry.”