'Civilian cyber-warriors' not driven by patriotism

Sep 10, 2012

People who commit cyber-attacks against the government also tend to download music illegally and participate in physical protests. Surprisingly, however, they don't appear to be acting out of some sense of national pride or patriotism.

Those are some of the findings to emerge from a Michigan State University study that for the first time begins to paint a profile of "civilian cyber-warriors," or people who engage in attacks against domestic or foreign governments. Cybercrimes pose a huge societal risk and have become a hot issue globally, yet little is known about the mindset behind them.

"We were surprised to find that nationalism and patriotism were not predictors for cyber-attacks," said Thomas Holt, MSU associate professor of criminal justice and lead author on the study. "When officials attempt to identify today's civilian cyber-warriors, they shouldn't necessarily be looking for the person who is politically radical."

Damaging cyber-attacks, such as the Stuxnet virus that disrupted work in Iran in 2010, have prompted calls for stricter Internet regulations and enforcement around the world. Congress was widely criticized in August when it failed to pass the Cybersecurity Act of 2012, even after many members warned of the catastrophic implications of cyber-attacks.

Holt said the faceless, borderless nature of the Internet allows individuals to mask their identity and better avoid detection. This has given rise to the civilian cyber-warrior, who can potentially attack vulnerable resources such as municipal water systems and , he said.

But what might motivate them? To find out, Holt and fellow researcher Max Kilger surveyed 357 students from a U.S. university about their willingness to engage in protests, both online and offline, and in . Eleven percent of the participants were international students, representing about 30 countries.

About 62 percent of participants said they were willing to participate in a physical protest if they believed their home government was being oppressive. More than 77 percent said they would post a Facebook message about the oppression.

A much smaller number of participants said they would engage in a cyber-attack such as defacing a government website (13 percent) or compromising a government server (10 percent). Of those who would engage in a cyber-attack, Holt said three common factors emerged: the participants were also inclined to download illegal music, movies and other media; they were likely to engage in physical protest behaviors; and they were not motivated by a general outlook or attitude toward their government.

"It may be that these individual behaviors correlate not to patriotism, but instead to an altruistic belief that all groups should be treated equally," Holt said. He added that his future research may begin to paint a clearer picture of what motivates cybercriminals.

The study appears online in the research journal Crime and Delinquency.

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antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (5) Sep 10, 2012
Surprisingly, however, they don't appear to be acting out of some sense of national pride or patriotism.

They find this surprising? Why?
Nationalism and patriotism requires someone with narrow vision and a closed mind.
Cyber crime, on the other hand, requires somoen who is interested in a plethora of subjects and willing to become an expert in all of them.
Those two attitudes just don't mesh.
Caliban
5 / 5 (1) Sep 10, 2012
Also, this study pretty clearly is set up to "sex up" the threat level posed by cyberattacks --notice how prominently Stuxnet appears in the narrative-- in order to be a policy spur.
I think it goes without saying that many powerful interests were quite angered by the "failure" of our legislature to enact any of the heavily-lobbied cyber security laws over the past few months, so now it only remains to make the ridiculous case that it is done for fun'n'profit, with the possible consequences of these little larks being our National, Economic, or Energy security.

What they fail entirely to make mention of, however, is that virtually all of the cyberwarfare aimed at the national security interests of a particular nation --to date-- have been closeley linked to the Security apparatus of another State, and not, as they would have us believe, to some cybercriminal fraudster/prankster.

contd
Caliban
5 / 5 (1) Sep 10, 2012
contd

Make no mistake --this is nothing more than an attempt to generate the justification for a new CISPA/SOPA --or worse-- and to simultaneously seek justification for current- and later, expanded- surveillance of private citizens and the further erosion of privacy and constitutionally guaranteed individual/civil rights.

And by the way --just in case you don't get it-- this "research" is also clearly intended to establish that a person cannot be "patriotic" or "nationalistic" --much less a healthily, justifiably concerned Citizen-- and at the same time take issue with the actions or policies of the "government" or the interests which it almost exclusively serves in the current era.
ODesign
5 / 5 (1) Sep 11, 2012
This article started out reading like propaganda as Caliban suggests, but the conclusion suggesting that cyber warriors are driven by altruism and a belief that all people should be treated equally contradicts the typical propaganda strategies. I can only assume the editor was trying to misrepresent the researcher, which explains the scare quotes.

BTW. Why did the article bring up Stuxnet in relationship to a survey of college students?
Kaspersky Lab concluded that the sophisticated attack could only have been conducted "with nation-state support".
http://en.wikiped.../Stuxnet
alfie_null
not rated yet Sep 11, 2012
Need a more neutral term than "cyber-warrior". In my mind "warrior" is associated with "noble cause", morals, ethics, and other somewhat positive attributes. Bringing down power and water utilities, and all the collateral harm that would cause is disjoint from any of those concepts.

It sounds like it isn't easy to profile this type of individual. It used to be necessary to have some skill with computers, but that's not so true any more. I'd guess expression of ego is a common trait, like graffiti (but antagonistic).
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Sep 11, 2012
Need a more neutral term than "cyber-warrior"

Cyber activist?

Though to be fair, those who do engage in such activities probably do see themselves as a warrior.

BTW: I find nothing wrong with the term warrior. Seems perfectly neutral to me. Warriors as invaders has a negativeconnotation. Warriors as defenders are noble.
Whether you think the cyber activist as an invader or defender, though, largely depends on which screen you're sitting in front of at the moment.

...much like all terrorists are freedom fighters to some. And all freedom fighter are terrorists to others.
Caliban
5 / 5 (1) Sep 11, 2012
Just to clarify a bit --my point mainly concerns this passage, which clearly identifies these "cyberwarriors" as a subset of a much larger group:

"About 62 percent of participants said they were willing to participate in a physical protest if they believed their home government was being oppressive. More than 77 percent said they would post a Facebook message about the oppression. A much smaller number of participants said they would engage in a cyber-attack such as defacing a government website [...] Of those who would engage in a cyber-attack, Holt said three common factors emerged: the participants were also inclined to download illegal music, movies and other media; they were likely to engage in physical protest behaviors; and they were not motivated by a general outlook or attitude toward their government."


...which means that virtually anyone belonging to that group(so broadly defined as to include virtually anyone) is fair game for surveillance, interrogation, or worse.
kochevnik
5 / 5 (1) Sep 11, 2012
"research" is also clearly intended to establish that a person cannot be "patriotic" or "nationalistic"
Patriotism is fighting for the government, while nationalism is defending the country. One can be a staunch nationalist while defeating patriotism.
defactoseven
not rated yet Sep 15, 2012
antialias, Caliban, ODesign, kochevnik, You have stated exactly my thoughts concerning this article. One thing I would add would be that the lead author of the study was an associate professor of criminal justice, which to me supports the judicial/patriotic bias it seems to portray. Although it sounds like it was written by a student.