EMPAC is pleased to report in on a Centre at Nottingham Trent University (NTU) that specialises in cyberpsychology, and is on its way to being a world leader in its field. if you’re looking for expertise in cyberpsychology, look no further!
More and more of us spend time in this thing called cyberspace, where there are some pros and some cons, as Barak and Suler (2008) reflect in Psychological Aspects of Cyberspace (Cambridge). Cyberpsychology is sometimes credited as being pioneered by Professor of Psychology, John Suler, of Rider University, New Jersey. The discipline might be explained as where the modern human and the machine overlap, exploring how the Internet and cyberspace affect the human mind and behaviour. The whole field of human-computer interaction (HCI) can range from online identity and addiction through to artificial intelligence and virtual reality. Take just a moment to consider how influential the Internet is on our everyday lives – from health, banking, shopping, gaming, impression management via social media, and of course those other aspects such as election interference, fake news, and trolling!
Studies into cyberspace began to grow in the 1990s, to explore the influence of the Internet on human beings. Of course, one aspect of the Internet is its criminal use, as with every rapid technological development comes a fresh criminal opportunity for some. This particular form of enquiry tends to be known as forensic cyberpsychology, and fortunately for us is a growth area as cybercriminality is on the up, so much that Europol has its own well-established Cyber Crime Centre. Themes here include the proactive study of technology-facilitated human trafficking. It’s not easy researching the implications of cybercrime as legal jurisdictions are complex and the reach of the criminal is more pervasive than street-based crime and this whole world is so fast-paced and ever moving, as Yan (2012) points out.
A modern-day Wild West?
It’s interesting to ponder how the Internet has driven a focus on technology and the machine, but the benefit of disciplines like cyberpsychology is to ensure we consider and explore the human behind the machine. For policing professionals that’s about the victim and offender perspectives, in what some regard, because of anonymity and complex international jurisdictions, something of a modern-day Wild West. New types of crime, new types of criminal and new forms of victimisation all mean we need to have new types of policing.
If we try to make some sense of the current state of the research, Wall (2001) identifies four key areas of cybercrime: trespass; deceptions and theft; pornography and obscenity and finally, violence, split across computer-integrity crimes, computer-assisted crimes and computer-content crimes. Kirwan and Power (2013) list three types of cybercrime: crimes against the virtual person, Internet-enabled offences and Internet-specific offences. As well as the obvious need for ongoing research about internet security, there is a growing field of research about online identities, the role of anonymity, personality disorders, radicalization, and social engineering. It has also been noted that whilst some cybercrime is quite new, some of it is good old-fashioned crime as we knew it, that has simply moved location.
The speed of change in cyberspace isn’t an easy fit with the research publishing process, which can take time to submit, be peer-reviewed and published in a journal, whilst cyber space has moved on and changed in the meantime. To drive research in such a cutting-edge environment you can imagine the skill and expertise required, and to help facilitate keeping up to date and future-orientated, networks such as the Association of European Threat Assessment Professionals (AETAP).
The UK is amongst the world leaders in this important research and the NTU Centre is led by Dr Daria Kuss, who alongside Alison Attrill-Smith, Chris Fullwood and Melanie Keep, edited the recently published Oxford Handbook of Cyberpsychology (2019). NTU is one of few institutions offering master’s programmes in cyberpsychology, alongside the Dun Laoghaire Institute in Dublin and the University of Wolverhampton, with NTU being the only programme worldwide that offers applied perspectives in this degree. Dr Kuss works with an interdisciplinary team at NTU, meaning forensic psychology is just one aspect of teaching and research, but this is probably the most directly relevant to policing professionals because of offender rehabilitation, victimology, offender profiling and crime reduction applications. The growth of cyberferal activity, perhaps affected by addiction and disinhibition of anonymity, means that some previous criminological theories of prevention, such as situational crime prevention (Clarke, 1980) need to be revisited, or reinvented, as people’s activity online changes.
Dr Daria Kuss is a Chartered Psychologist, Chartered Scientist and Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Nottingham Trent University, and Programme Leader of the new MSc Cyberpsychology. She has an international reputation as Internet addiction expert, and an award-winning author, with her new books Internet addiction – Evidence-based practice in psychotherapy (Hogrefe) and The Oxford Handbook of Cyberpsychology (OUP) both of which have only just been published in 2019. Her research has been covered in international news outlets, including the New York Times, The Washington Post, and the BBC.
Further reading: Attrill-Smith, A.,Fullwood, C., Keep, M., & Kuss, D. J. (2019). The Oxford Handbook of Cyberpsychology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Cyber security tips:
Implement a strong, complex password containing 3 random words that aren’t connected to you (no pet’s names, date of birth, family names etc).
• Add 2FA (2 Factor Authentication) to your account to add an extra layer of security (see: https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/guidance/setting-two-factor-authentication-2fa)
• Ensure your software and apps are up to date (set to automatically update)
Visit the National Cyber Security Centre for more details: https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/