At first glance, cybercrime and psychology appear completely unrelated, but they have much in common. By leveraging human emotions, cognitive biases and social dynamics, cybercriminals deceive people into sharing passwords, clicking on malicious links or unknowingly installing malware.
The popularity of smartphones, internet access and social media have allowed cybercriminals to cast a wider net to find people to exploit. The move online following the pandemic — whether for shopping, medical care or work — has exposed numerous vulnerabilities too. That is why a program like Norfolk State University’s online Master of Science (M.S.) in CyberPsychology explores the psychological impact of emerging digital trends, such as cybercrime and cyberbullying.
What Psychological Tactics Do Cybercriminals Use?
Cybercriminals often exploit psychological vulnerabilities in their targets, so cyberpsychologists must be aware of the psychological principles contributing to these crimes. According to Microsoft Security, 48% of people will share their password in exchange for a piece of chocolate, and about two-thirds of people have experienced a tech support scam in the past year.
Those statistics indicate the growing opportunities for cybercriminals to prey on others, typically by employing one or more psychological tactics:
- Creating a sense of urgency or a time-limited window to act can push individuals to divulge identifying information or behave in ways they normally would not. For example, cybercriminals may say that the person’s account will be closed within 24 hours if they do not click the link to update their information.
- Cybercriminals frequently impersonate reputable companies, using their perceived power to convince people to reveal personal banking information or other sensitive data. They may build trust more quickly by portraying an authority figure.
- Criminals know how to craft a compelling story that connects emotionally with targets. If someone believes the person contacting them is nice and friendly or has a sympathetic story, they are more likely to do them a favor or submit to their request.
- When persuasion or other psychological levers do not work, cybercriminals may turn to fear tactics, becoming increasingly persistent and aggressive until the individual relents.
Who Is Most At-Risk for Cybercrimes?
In general, anyone using the internet can become a cybercrime target. While some cybercrimes result from human error after someone neglects to change their password or update their antivirus software, some groups are routinely more vulnerable than others. According to research shared by cybersecurity software company Avast, businesses, older people, teens and young adults face some of the highest risks.
What Are the Psychological Impacts on Cybercrime Victims?
Falling prey to an online scam or phishing attack has potential financial implications for victims and can take a psychological toll. Victims may experience emotional distress, including depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. They may feel shame and embarrassment, making them hesitant to speak about their experience. These factors are important for cybercrime professionals to understand as they attempt to solve these crimes and prevent future ones.
How Can Cyberpsychology Professionals Use Psychology to Combat Online Crime?
Cyberpsychology professionals can use psychological tactics to combat crimes online. By understanding cybercriminals’ psychological profiles and motivations, they can develop better detection algorithms and targeted interventions. By knowing how individuals perceive risks, make decisions and respond to security measures, cyberpsychologists can create educational and awareness materials that encourage safer online behavior.
Graduates of Norfolk State’s M.S. in CyberPsychology program learn the principles of psychology, sociology and criminal justice that contribute to deviant online behavior and apply this knowledge in their careers. Students also explore digital forensics and various strategies to expose illegal activity through courses like Psychology and Cyberspace, Forensic CyberPsychology and Human Aspects of Cybersecurity.
In an increasingly online world, cyberpsychology specialists can home in on the psychological aspects contributing to cybercrime, develop effective prevention strategies, support victims and advocate for stricter cybersecurity practices.
Learn more about Norfolk State University’s M.S. in CyberPsychology online program.