Preventing Ideologically Motivated Cyberattacks and Online Violence

October 16, 2020

Dr. Tom Holt and Dr. Steve Chermak have partnered with Dr. Joshua Freilich (John Jay College) for their project Assessing the Life Histories and Background of Ideologically Motivated Actors Engaging in Cyberattacks and Online Violence.

The team of researchers will be reviewing past cyberattacks and targeted harassment campaigns against various targets in the United States and examining the actor’s affiliations with various groups and causes. “We want to understand what drives an individual to engage in ideological cyberattacks. We’re just now starting to wrap our heads around how often such attacks occur, but we don’t really understand why” says Dr. Holt.

Photo of Tom HoltCurrently, a common hypothesis is that cyberattacks are the chosen medium for attacks due to the reduced risk of arrest and higher chances of success. However, this is an idea transferred from research on physical attacks, which leaves possible holes in the hypothesis. As Dr. Holt notes, “hacking is often complicated, and requires individuals to have a very different set of skills than what we might associate with physical violence.” Because of this, it is important to understand how the background and identity of an individual as well as the various societal factors that affect an individual contribute to the likelihood of cybercrime occurring.

With the increasing likelihood of cyberattacks occurring due to our dependence on technology for nearly every aspect of modern life, it is critical for us to understand not only how to protect ourselves from cyberattacks but also how to reduce the likelihood of cyberattacks occurring. Dr. Holt says, “The more we understand these attacks, the methods used in the attacks, and the backgrounds of those committing these attacks, the better we can identify points to intervene and deescalate individual activities.”