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Understanding Youth Cybercriminality: Overview of Key Interview Findings from Experts in the Field

Pathways into cybercrime and drivers of cybercrime perpetration are crucial areas that need to be understood better in order to standardise resources and develop viable cybercrime prevention and intervention initiatives. This blog post focuses on one-to-one cybercrime expert interviews conducted in 2020-21 as part of The Institute for Connected Communities (based at University of East London) contribution to the CC-DRIVER project. Interview findings were included into a review of cyber adult and juvenile criminality, human factors and key drivers from a multidisciplinary perspective drawing on relevant findings from psychology, cyberpsychology, criminology, neurobiology and anthropology.

These interviews explored cybercrime pathways, drivers, prevention and intervention methods with a range of experts in the field. Thematic analysis was carried out to identify commonalities and patterns across the dataset. A secondary aim of these interview findings was to inform the development of a large-scale multi-national European online survey (investigating factors that lead to juvenile involvement in cybercrime) and aspects of the interview findings have since been successfully incorporated into the survey design, which is in its very final stages now.

Who took part in the interviews?

Interviews were conducted with 36 cybercrime experts, who fell within three broad categories:

  1. Professional experts with direct experience of juvenile cybercrime;

  2. Academics (from a range of disciplines);

  3. Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) working in the field of juvenile cybercriminality.

The category of professional ‘Experts’ included: education and school systems; health, social work or counselling; intervention and prevention programmes; industry and threat response; and the criminal justice system. As indicated in the visual map, participants were recruited from 16 countries worldwide, 11 of these countries were within Europe, and the remaining 5 countries were outside of the European Union. Overall, 18 of the participants were professional ‘Experts’, six were ‘Academics’, and twelve were from ‘Law Enforcement Agencies’.

What did we find?

The primary aim of this study was to investigate key stakeholder opinions in relation to juvenile cybercriminality and cyber delinquency, with a focus on motivations, human factors and key drivers. The results of our research with cybercrime experts will inform the development of evidence-based educational, awareness and intervention tools and programmes in CC-DRIVER, for instance, a "pathways into cybercrime" checklist (PCC) resource for parents, caregivers and educators designed to help recognise youth behaviours that may facilitate cybercriminality and a youth self-assessment metric (YSM) designed to assess the vulnerability of young people to cybercrime and to divert youth from cybercrime into more socially beneficial contributions.

Eleven themes emerged that were grouped under four overarching categories as follows:

  • cybercrime prevention;

  • pathways into cybercrime;

  • motivations;

  • and intervention methods.

Findings highlighted that tailored education and awareness raising are crucial to the prevention and tackling of juvenile cybercrime. The interview analysis shed light on the significance of social contexts, teenage curiosity and experimental interest in cyberspace, unmonitored accessibility to the world wide web, and device usage when considering juvenile cybercrime and risky actions online. Additionally, there is a need to support young people who have a curiosity for technology and cyberspace into developing their skills legally, using like-minded tech-skilled mentors.

There were several calls for ‘good practice’ guidelines to combat cybercrime among young people. A comprehensive set of practices is currently unaccounted for and is required for key stakeholders to be well-equipped to detect, deter and divert young people from committing dangerous activities online. As offences transcend international borders, there is an increasing demand to clarify legal frameworks, rules and regulations. Modernised laws on an international scale were recommended to clarify the response these key actors can implement in the shifting technological landscape.

There was a perceived dual responsibility to safeguard victims and implement effective strategies to protect vulnerable children and young people. On a psychological and pathological level, appropriate support and protection needs to be available for victims that are direct recipients of an online offense, and indirectly for individuals that misuse the Internet putting themselves at a risk of self-harm. To safeguard young people, cyber victimisation emerged as a critical consideration through access to supportive materials and advice, increased digital censorship of harmful material and effective online protection strategies to be implemented.

Overall, respondents were keen not to blame and punish young people who may have engaged in cybercrime, but rather to raise awareness of what is or isn’t a crime online, and to support vulnerable young people to make better informed choices. Broadly, findings are reflective of current literature, but also offer new and un-explored concepts, particularly as this study was conducted in the context of cybercrime perpetration during COVID-19, and the new emerging cybercrime trends the pandemic has highlighted.


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