Is There a Relationship between Cyber-Dependent Crime, Autism and Autistic-like Traits?

Poster Presentation
Saturday, May 4, 2019: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Room: 710 (Palais des congres de Montreal)
K. L. Payne1, A. Russell2, K. L. Maras3, D. Rai4, R. J. Mills5 and M. Brosnan6, (1)Psychology, University of Bath, Bath, United Kingdom, (2)Psychology/Centre for Applied Autism Research, University of Bath, Bath, United Kingdom, (3)Psychology, Centre for Applied Autism Research, University of Bath, Bath, United Kingdom, (4)Population Health Sciences, Bristol Medical School, Centre for Academic Mental Health, Bristol, United Kingdom, (5)Psychology, Research Autism, Bath, UNITED KINGDOM, (6)Centre for Applied Autism Research, University of Bath, Bath, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

A significant proportion of cybercrimes are termed ‘cyber-dependent’, that is, crimes that require digital technology, such as hacking, phishing and Distributed Denial Of Service. Several high profile extradition cases for cyber-dependent crime, where the USA has attempted to extradite hackers from the UK, have involved autistic hackers. The number of such cases is very small and evidence for a link between autism and cyber-dependent crime has not been established. International law-enforcement agencies, however, report that autism appears to be more prevalent amongst cyber-dependent criminals than the general population - although no empirical evidence exists to confirm or refute this common perception.


To identify any potential relationships between cyber-dependent crime, autism and autistic-like traits.


174 individuals aged 14 or older from the general population without a known record of offending anonymously completed an online questionnaire assessing demographic information, non-verbal IQ (Ravens Matrices-short), Autistic-like traits (AQ), explicit Theory of Mind (Social Know How), perceived support (ISEL), basic digital skills, advanced digital skills and number of illegal digital activities. 72 (41.3%) reported engaging in illegal cyber-dependent crime and 10 (5.7%) individuals reported a diagnosis of autism. The characteristics of the sample by the absence or presence of illegal digital activity are described in Table 1 below.


Those who had carried out one or more illegal digital activities were likely to be older, have a higher total AQ score, have greater advanced digital skills and were less likely to have had received a diagnosis of autism.

Table 1: Descriptive statistics of the sample by the absence or presence of any illegal digital activity (n=174)

No Illegal Digital activity (n=102)

Mean (SD)

One or more Illegal digital activity (n=72)

Mean (SD)


Age mean

22.9 (11.1)

26.6 (8.5)


Male sex (n, %)

72 (70.6%)

42 (58.3%)


Total Ravens

9.9 (2.8)

10.4 (1.8)


Total AQ Score

20.6 (8.3)

24.4 (8.9)


Social Know How

8.4 (4.5)

9.4 (4.8)



23.5 (7.1)

23.6 (8.3)


Basic Digital Skills

48.9 (2.7)

49.6 (2.2)


Advanced Digital Skills

29.4 (12.6)

43.8 (8.4)


Autism diagnosis (n, %)

9 (8.8%)

1 (1.4%)



Cyber-dependent crime was significantly related to autism and autistic-like traits, in opposite directions. Higher autistic-like traits related to increased likelihood of computer-dependent crime, whereas a diagnosis of autism related to decreased likelihood of cyber-dependent crime. This is particularly interesting given that typically the autistic population has been found to be higher in autistic-like traits than the non-autistic population. Previous research has found that autism can also be associated with being honest and trustworthy, and cyber-dependent crime may be an area that distinguishes those with high autistic-like traits and those with a diagnosis of autism. Obviously, the numbers of autistic respondents in this initial study was small, limiting such potential implications. Age and experience were also important, whereas non-verbal IQ, theory of mind and perceived support were not.