This chapter is designed to introduce the student to forensic psychology. If you have never studied forensic psychology before, this chapter will provide you with some of the fundamental concepts of the field, especially those that relate to the study of the psychology of cybercrime.

Firstly, a brief description will be provided of forensic psychology, followed by a cursory overview of the different types of cybercrime and their categorization. Following this, the key areas that forensic psychologists specialize in are described, including offender profiling, offender assessment, punishment and rehabilitation, risk assessment, juries, helping victims, crime prevention and police psychology. Finally, an overview will be provided of some of the key theories of crime – the possible reasons why crime exists and why certain individuals are more likely to become criminals than others. These theories are offered at various levels, from societal to the individual, and many of the theories can be applied to cybercriminal acts.

Forensic Psychology
Forensic psychology has enjoyed considerable popularity in the media for some time, with films such as The Silence of the Lambs and television programs such as Cracker and Criminal Minds attracting large audience numbers and introducing many viewers to forensic psychological concepts. However, most of these programs and films focus on one specific area of forensic psychology – offender profiling. While this is undoubtedly a very interesting topic within the field, and understandably popular among screenwriters and producers, relatively few forensic psychologists engage in offender profiling, and the majority of forensic psychologists actually work in prison settings (British Psychological Society, 2011). Torres et al. (2006) indicate that only about 10 percent of forensic psychologists and psychiatrists have ever worked in offender profiling. Forensic psychology is made up of considerably more areas than offender profiling, and an overview of some of the definitions of forensic psychology provides insight into how diverse this field is.

Brown and Campbell (2010) indicate that even the ‘term forensic psychologist is unhelpful and potentially misleading as no one individual can hope to have the breadth and depth of knowledge … Rather we think that there is a family of settings within which forensic psychology is applied, and that context is critical to limiting claims of expertise’ (p. 1). They argue that there is a lack of consensus as to the definition of forensic psychology. This is evident among the many definitions of forensic psychology that have been offered.

Some definitions, such as that of Blackburn (1996), are quite narrow in focus, suggesting that forensic psychology is ‘the provision of psychological information for the purpose of facilitating a legal decision’ (p. 7). Others are much broader, such as Wrightsman’s (2001) definition of forensic psychology as ‘any application of psychological knowledge or methods to a task faced by the legal system’ (p. 2). Davies et al. (2008) also favor a broad definition, indicating that forensic psychology is a combination of both ‘legal psychology covering the application of psychological knowledge and methods to the process of law and criminological psychology dealing with the application of psychological theory and method to the understanding (and reduction) of criminal behavior’ (p. xiii). Nevertheless, Davies et al. (2008) do recognize that the use of the term ‘forensic psychology’ to encompass both legal and criminological psychology has been contentious.

Both Howitt (2009) and Brown and Campbell (2010) favor the broader definitions of forensic psychology, to allow for the inclusion of the work of psychologists who work in a wide variety of forensic-related settings, such as those described below. In this book, a similar stance will be taken, and a broad definition of forensic psychology will be subscribed to, encompassing anyway in which psychology can aid in any stage of the criminal justice process.

Cyber Criminal a Brief Introduction
There are many different types of cybercrime, some of which will be explored in this book. As with crime in general, most types of cybercrime can be divided into ‘property crimes’ (such as identity theft, fraud, and copyright infringement) and ‘crimes against the person’ (such as cybercrimes involving the sexual abuse of children).

Similarly, cybercrimes can be divided into internet-enabled crimes and internet- specific crimes. Internet-enabled crimes are those types of crimes that can also exist offline (for example, copyright infringement and the distribution of child pornography), but the presence of internet-enabled devices allows for easier and faster execution of such offenses. Internet-specific crimes are those cybercrimes that do not exist without an online or computer-enabled environment (such as malware distribution and hacking offenses such as denial of service attacks on websites). The third type of cybercrime is also possible – specifically ‘crimes in virtual worlds’ (Power, 2010; Power and Kirwan, 2011). These are events which occur between avatars (or characters) within online virtual worlds, which in offline settings would be considered to be criminal events (such as murder, theft, sexual assault or violence).

As with many other types of crime, cybercrimes vary in severity, method, and motive. They also vary in how they are perceived by criminal justice systems around the world – what is considered illegal in one jurisdiction may not break any specific laws in another. In particular, crimes in virtual worlds can be difficult to define from legal perspectives, due to the varying acceptability of different behaviors in various virtual worlds.

Components of Forensic Psychology
As mentioned above, forensic psychology involves many different activities and responsibilities, and most forensic psychologists choose to specialize in one or more of these areas. Two of the most common specialisms include offender rehabilitation and offender assessment, where a psychologist will try to determine if the offender is suffering from a psychological abnormality, if they are likely to re-offend and if they can be rehabilitated to reduce the likelihood of reoffending. Other psychologists examine how witnesses and victims can be helped when trying to recall details of an offense, while others attempt to find strategies that will encourage offenders to confess to their crimes, without increasing the risk of ‘false confessions.’ The detection of deception is another key area of forensic psychology, where specialists try to determine what the most reliable methods are for determining the truthfulness of responses. Some forensic psychologists work with police forces, attempting to reduce stress levels and devise the best methods of police recruitment and training. Others examine the behavior of juries, trying to determine who makes up the most reliable juries and how members of the jury make decisions about guilt or innocence. The psychology of victims is also considered, and psychologists attempt to determine how victims can be helped by the criminal justice system and how they can reduce their likelihood of being re-victimized. Similarly, psychologists can also work within communities to help in the development of educational strategies and other interventions that may reduce levels of crime. In this section, an outline will be provided of some of these activities, along with a brief overview of how they have been applied to cybercriminal events.

Offender profiling
Douglas et al. (1986) define offender profiling as ‘a technique for identifying the major personality and behavioral characteristics of an individual based upon an analysis of the crimes he or she has committed’ (p. 405). However, there are many approaches that can be employed during profile development (Ainsworth, 2001). These include:

  • Crime scene analysis. This is used as the basis for the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation’s technique.
  • Diagnostic evaluation. This technique relies on clinical judgments of a profiler.
  • Investigative psychology. This technique utilizes a statistical approach to profiling (although it should be noted that investigative psychology is generally considered to have a broader remit than profiling alone (Canter and Youngs, 2009).

Due, at least in part, to the popularity of offender profiling among the general population, a significant number of profilers have published descriptions of the cases that they have worked on and the profiles that they have developed (see, for example, Britton, 1997, 2000; Canter, 1995, 2003; Douglas and Olshaker, 1995, 1999, 2000).

Underlying most profiling methods are two key assumptions, as outlined by Alison and Kebbell (2006). These are the ‘consistency assumption’ and the ‘homology assumption.’

  • The ‘consistency assumption’ states that offenders will exhibit similar behaviors throughout all their crimes. So, for example, if someone engages in online fraud using an auction website, the consistency assumption dictates that they would use auction websites for most of their offenses. However, there are problems with this assumption – the offender may have to change their method if they are banned from specific auction sites, or if they find that they are not making sufficient money from such a technique.
  • The ‘homology assumption’ suggests that ‘similar offense styles have to be associated with similar offender background characteristics’ (Alison and Kebbell, 2006, p. 153). So for example, if the offender is a conscientious person, then that conscientiousness will be evident in how they complete their crimes. For example, perhaps the same fraudster described above will display a high degree of conscientiousness in managing their fraud, taking care to manage details of their crimes in such a way as to avoid apprehension. The homology assumption predicts that the same offender will also be conscientious in their day-to-day lives, perhaps ensuring a high quality of work in their employment or a carefully maintained filing system for personal documents. Again, there are problems with this assumption – individuals do not always display the same characteristics in different settings. For example, it is likely that you behave quite differently when you are among your classmates than when you are speaking to one of your lecturers. In relation to this, Canter (1995) describes the ‘interpersonal coherence’ aspect of the interaction between victim and offender, referring to how variations in criminal activity may reflect variations in how the offender deals with people in non-criminal circumstances.

While it should be remembered that it is difficult to verify the effectiveness and utility of offender profiling (Alison and Kebbell, 2006; Alison et al., 2003), there are several studies which have examined how offender profiling might be useful in cybercrime cases. Gudaitis (1998) outlines a need for a multi-dimensional profiling method for assessing cybercriminals, while Nykodym et al. (2005) also indicate that offender profiling could be of use when investigating cybercrimes, especially where it is suspected that the offender is an insider in an affected company. Rogers (2003) indicates that offender profiling could be useful in a variety of ways for cybercriminal investigation, including helping the investigators to search hard drives more effectively, narrowing the pool of potential suspects, identifying a motive and determining the characteristics of victims which make them more appealing to offenders.

There is conflicting evidence regarding the consistency assumption in cybercrime cases. Jahankhani and Al-Nemrat (2010) suggest that due to the rapid changes in technology over time, it is possible that cybercriminal behavior may also undergo rapid changes. Nevertheless, Preuß et al. (2007) report the analysis of twelve hacking incidents in Germany and found that the methods used years ago were still the preferred methods of more contemporary hackers.

One of the key large-scale studies involving offender profiling and cybercrime was the Hackers Profiling Project (Chiesa et al., 2009), which produced a large quantity of information such as demographics, socioeconomic background, social relationships, psychological traits and hacking activities. The results of this study are considered in more detail in Chapter 3. However, it should be noted that this project aimed to create a profile of hackers based on completion of a self-report questionnaire, rather than any attempts to develop a profile of a hacker from their activities and offenses alone. Nevertheless, the scale and scope of the Hackers Profiling Project is an important initial step in developing the database of information required to make accurate profiles of offenders in the future.

Psychological disorders and offender assessment
One of the most common activities carried out by practicing forensic psychologists involves assessment of offenders. When serious crimes are reported in the news, people often feel that the perpetrator must have some psychological disorder. Otherwise, they would not have been able to carry out such horrendous acts. It is often the role of the forensic psychologist to assess whether or not the offender meets the diagnosis for a psychological disorder and to provide a report or expert testimony in court (Gudjonsson and Haward, 1998). However, this role is sometimes complicated by a lack of agreement between psychology and legal systems as to what constitutes a psychological disorder.

While defining abnormal behavior seems on the surface to be simple, when analyzed in depth it is quite difficult to achieve. For example, in most cases, if a person cries easily and frequently, we would consider their behavior to be abnormal. However, if the person has just lost a close friend or family member, but they do not show signs of psychological distress, then we would also consider their behavior to be abnormal. As such, one of the key methods of determining abnormality relates to discomfort – is the person experiencing distress that continues over a long period or is unrelated to their current circumstances?

The second consideration of abnormality involves dysfunction – can the person manage their daily life effectively? Are they able to study, work and socialize, and can they maintain interpersonal relationships? It is important to consider the person’s potential when doing this – if a student is weak at a subject like math’s, and gets a poor grade, he or she may still be reaching their potential. However, if a normally strong student who usually gets A or B grades suddenly starts to fail their courses, it may be indicative of a problem.

The third method of defining abnormality involves deviance. In this sense, deviance refers to unusual (rather than specifically criminal or antisocial) behavior. So, if a person experiences a symptom that most members of the population do not (such as violent mood swings or hallucinations), it may indicate a psychological disorder. Nevertheless, deviance alone is insufficient to define abnormality – it is unusual for a student to receive straight A’s in their exams, but it certainly would not be considered to be abnormal.

Psychological disorders are quite carefully defined, and lists of them (and their corresponding symptoms) can be found in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM, 2000, 2011). Any offender may be suffering from a psychological disorder, and forensic psychologists will assess the suspect for symptoms of these disorders using a combination of clinical interviews, psychometric tests, clinical history, and observations. Most abnormal psychology textbooks base their content on the DSM, but it is important to remember that the concept of insanity is a legal one, rather than a psychological term (Huss, 2009). There are many types of psychological disorders, and not all would lead to a diagnosis of insanity from a legal perspective. Indeed, the definitions of insanity have varied over time and jurisdiction, but most relate to the understanding of right and wrong, or the control of impulses (see Foucault, 1965; Huss, 2009).

There has been very little research to date investigating the link between psychological disorders and cybercriminals. However, it has been suggested that there is a link between Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) and hacking behaviors (Hunter, 2009). AS is a disorder on the autistic spectrum, which is characterized by a significant impairment in social interaction skills, a lack of emotional reciprocity and repetitive and strong interests in a limited number of activities (Sue et al., 2005), although there is intact cognitive ability and no delays in early language milestones (Toth and King, 2008). Several hackers have been diagnosed with this disorder, including Gary McKinnon and Owen Walker (Gleeson, 2008). Hunter (2009) indicates that these characteristics could lead AS individuals to spend more time with computers, indicating that ‘For a person with Asperger’s Syndrome, computers can provide a perfect solitary pastime as well as a refuge from the unpredictability of people’ (p. 46). Certainly, the focus that individuals with AS have on certain activities would benefit them if they wished to become accomplished hackers. However, care should be taken to remember that not all individuals with AS are hackers. Similarly, not all hackers have AS. As such, while there is substantial anecdotal evidence to suggest a link between hacking and AS, until an empirical study is completed in this area, a strong correlation between the two cannot be assumed.

Punishment, rehabilitation, and risk assessment
While it is common for serious offenders to be assessed when they are apprehended, and before trial, a forensic psychologist may also be involved in later stages of their experience within the criminal justice system. Forensic psychologists often help to devise appropriate rehabilitation strategies and interventions and may be asked to assess the offender’s risk of further offending behaviors, should the perpetrator be released. Such risk assessments can play an important part in the determination of early release suitability.

Legal systems often have a variety of punishments available, of which certain subsets are deemed to be suitable for various offenses. If the offense is minor, the perpetrator may face a relatively light punishment (such as a fine for a parking offense). More serious crimes are associated with more severe punishments, such as imprisonment, community service, probation and in some jurisdictions corporal and capital punishment. Similarly, different punishments may have different aims, including deterrence, rehabilitation, restitution or incapacitation (preventing the offender from committing further acts by ‘incapacitating’ them – perhaps by imprisonment or preventing them from accessing certain equipment or people).

Deterrence can be ‘general’ or ‘specific.’ Specific deterrence is aimed at the individual offender, in the hope that they will not re-offend, while general deterrence is aimed at society as a whole, in the hope that by punishing the individual, other members of society will be deterred from criminal acts. Both types of deterrence have been used in cybercrime cases. Smith (2004) discussed the case of Simon Vallor, who spent eight months in prison for writing computer viruses. Vallor stated that he ‘… would never try to create a virus again … Going to prison was terrible. It was the worst time of my life’ (Smith, 2004, p. 6). In this instance, specific deterrence seems to have been achieved, although Smith also suggests that general deterrence is less effective in hacking cases, as many hackers feel that convictions can be difficult to obtain, and punishments only occur in rare cases. General deterrence has also been utilized in copyright infringement cases, where a relatively small number of individuals have received severe punishments for the illegal distribution of material such as songs, videos, and software, although it again appears that this tactic has limited effectiveness in deterring most users from these activities.

It could be suggested that in an ideal world, all offenders should be fully rehabilitated so that they are no longer a danger to society and will not re-offend. In practice, unfortunately, this is unlikely to occur, although forensic psychologists attempt to determine the best strategies for working with offenders to reduce their risk. Rehabilitation programs vary greatly – some of the most common ones involve substance abuse rehabilitation programs that attempt to discourage offenders from committing property offenses to feed drug habits. However, rehabilitation programs are also provided for violent offenders, sex offenders, and juvenile offenders, among many others. The type of rehabilitation provided depends on both the type of crime which has occurred and the psychology of the specific offender – not all offenders are suitable for rehabilitation, and psychologists and psychiatrists assess offenders to determine if they are suitable for, and will benefit from, rehabilitation programs. Specific rehabilitation programs have been suggested for individuals who commit child-related online offenses, such as the distribution of child pornography, and these are discussed in more detail in Chapter 6. All rehabilitation programs need to be carefully carried out, with suitable evaluations and controls, to determine their effectiveness.

The aim of restitution is to compensate the victim for the damage done by the offender’s actions. For this reason, restitution is best suited to property offenses, such as theft and vandalism. One example of the use of restitution involved Jammie Thomas-Rasset (BBC News Online, 25 January 2010), who was fined almost two million dollars in 2009 for sharing songs over the internet (although this fine was later reduced). In restitution cases, damages can be awarded to the victim (such as the music industry) to compensate them for any losses incurred. It is also possible that restitution may be a suitable tactic for crimes that occur in virtual worlds. However, restitution is less appropriate for other offenses, such as the distribution of child pornography.

The goal of incapacitation is to prevent the offender from committing any more crimes. Punishments which aim for this goal include imprisonment, where the offender is prevented from carrying out more crimes because of their incarceration. For cybercriminals, incarceration can take other forms, such as in the case of computer hacker Kevin Mitnick. When he was arrested he was held without bail, as US Magistrate Venetta Tassopulos ruled ‘… that when armed with a keyboard he posed a danger to the community’ (Littman, 1996, as cited by MacKinnon, 1997, p. 17). Mitnick’s access to telephones was also severely restricted. In modern society, it is very difficult to restrict internet access completely, especially with the advent of the internet- enabled mobile technologies such as smartphones. However, variations of such penalties have been considered for cybercriminals. It has been suggested that those who repeatedly download pirated music, videos or games should have their internet connection speed reduced to the extent that it would prohibit further downloading.

A related responsibility of some forensic psychologists involves risk assessment. In these cases, the psychologist is asked to determine what the probability is of the offender committing further crimes, often for the benefit of parole boards who use the psychologist’s report during their decision-making process. Predicting future criminal behavior is extremely hard, even with the benefit of hindsight. A criminal may be considered to be at high risk of further offending, and so would not be released, but it could not be known with certainty if they would have offended again if they had returned to society. Similarly, an offender who is considered to be at low risk of reoffending and who is released may still re-offend but avoid detection. When making such assessments, parole boards consider the type of criminal activity involved. For some types of property-related offenses, it may be preferable to err on the side of releasing the offender, as the consequences of an inaccurate assessment are relatively low. However, if the offender is an online child predator, it may be preferable to err on the side of continuing incarceration, as the consequences of releasing an offender who is still a danger to society are so significant.


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