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Impulsive personalities most likely to fall victim to cybercrime, research shows

New research from Michigan State University examining the behavior that leads someone to fall victim to cybercrime reveals that impulse online shopping, downloading music and compulsive email use are all signs of a certain personality trait that make you a target for malware attacks.

“People who show signs of low self-control are the ones we found more susceptible to malware attacks,” said Tomas Holt, professor of criminal justice and lead author of the research. “An individual’s characteristics are critical in studying how cybercrime perseveres, particularly the person’s impulsiveness and the activities that they engage in while online that have the greatest impact on their risk.”

A low self-control person is described as someone who shows signs of short-sightedness, negligence, physical versus verbal behavior and an inability to delay gratification, Holt said.

“Self-control is an idea that’s been looked at heavily in criminology in terms of its connection to committing crimes,” the professor noted. “But we find a correlation between low self-control and victimization; people with this trait put themselves in situations where they are near others who are motivated to break the law.”

6,000 people participated in Holt’s survey, answering a series of questions about how they might react in certain situations, like their computer having slower processing, crashing, unexpected pop-ups and the homepage changing on their web browser.

“The internet has omnipresent risks,” Holt said. “In an online space, there is constant opportunity for people with low self-control to get what they want, whether that is pirated movies or deals on consumer goods.”

Hackers know that people with low self-control are easy prey. Understanding the psychological side of self-control and the types of people whose computers become infected with malware is critical in fighting cybercrime, Holt said.

He believes there are human aspects that should be taken into consideration before approaching malware prevention and education from a technical standpoint – namely, the psychological side of messaging to those with low self-control and impulsive behaviors.

Breaking the barrier between computer and social sciences to allow a holistic school of thought about fighting cybercrime is essential, Holt believes.

“If we can identify risk factors, we can work in tandem with technical fields to develop strategies that then reduce the risk factors for infection. It’s a pernicious issue we’re facing, so if we can attack from both fronts, we can pinpoint the risk factors and technical strategies to find solutions that improve protection for everyone,” he concluded.

About the author


Filip is an experienced writer with over a decade of practice in the technology realm. He has covered a wide range of topics in such industries as gaming, software, hardware and cyber-security, and has worked in various B2B and B2C marketing roles. Filip currently serves as Information Security Analyst with Bitdefender.