Who is hiding behind the mask of the cybercriminal?

It is common in social affairs that, when a phenomenon is widespread or worrying but it is little-known and little-studied, a series of myths and exaggerations arise, and come to define public perceptions of the issue. It then becomes increasingly difficult for anyone to form an objective picture. This is the case with the rise of cybercrime in the former Soviet Union. All too often, post-Soviet cybercriminals are presented in books as romantic folk-heroes. Alternatively, western sources recycle Cold War stereotypes about “the Russians” and “the mafia”. The real situation is rather different.

Researchers from the Information Security Institute have approached the study of the social phenomenon of post-Soviet cybercrime not on the basis of existing perceptions, but guided by the pursuit of objectivity. As a result of our global research work from 2013 to the present day, the book “Cyber Feng Shui” was written.

The inspiration for the book was the widespread perception in 2013 that cybercriminals from the post-Soviet countries, such as Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine, occupy the highest positions in the world of cybercrime. The researchers questioned this assumption and sought to confirm or refute it. The study examined the network of relations among cybercriminals, their social behavior and lifestyle, and their typical psychological profile. The study concluded that the demonisation of post-Soviet cybercriminals, the terrifying image portrayed in the west, is nothing more than a myth.

This conclusion was reached following extensive research on a vast trove of collected data. In particular, studies were made of over 100 convictions for cybercrime in the period 1998–2012 and around 100 cybercriminals active in this period. The researchers also conducted interviews in person with three insiders from the world of cybercrime, people who have avoided long jail sentences in America through the protections provided by the countries of which they are citizens. This came at considerable cost: all three individuals are living under restrictions on their access to computers and other devices with Internet access. The interviews were conducted face-to-face in Kyiv, Odessa, and Bucharest.

After writing the book, and in order to further verify its findings, a two-month-long series of practical sessions were held. The aim was to test how far actual cybercriminals accord with the common stereotypes. Thanks to this quantitative research, and follow-up verification of these individuals’ activities, the conclusion was confirmed: the generally accepted stereotype of a cybercriminal has nothing in common with the characteristics of a real cybercriminal. The latter characteristics are such that, at this stage, only a specialist can recognize them.

The book “Cyber Feng Shui” has become a crucial tool for the criminologist, investigative journalist, psychologist, sociologist, and cybersecurity officer who is seeking to identify which individuals are engaged in cybercrime. The work continues to be updated annually with material from colleagues in Western Europe, the USA, and Asia.



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