Understanding Drivers of Cyberterrorism

Cybercrime is indeed cyberterrorism’s nucleus, combing the adoption of continuously advanced information technology tools and techniques with the usage of the internet to conduct harmful actions that target vital infrastructure systems leading to economic losses, political chaos, environmental damage and loss of life (Hardy and Williams, 2014).

Continuous advancement of information technologies and the increased dependencies on them – witnessed by the exponential evolution of the Internet of Things – dictate the need to investigate further cyberterrorists’ behaviours with the objective of preventing cyberterrorists’ actions as well as mitigating them.

The “Social Bond Theory”, a theory from the criminology literature proposed by Hirschi in 1969, has been used in the information systems’ domain to understand the drivers behind cybercrime. It proposes that people with stronger social ties, mainly attachment and interest in social surroundings, commitment towards socially accepted goals, involvement in conventional social activities and having strong personal norms and value systems, are usually less susceptible to exhibiting abnormal or antisocial behaviour (Hirschi, 1969).

In 2008, Jaishankar proposed a new theory, “Space Transition Theory”, to explain the causes of crimes in cyberspace, as he believed that general criminology theory was inadequate (Jaishankar, 2008). His theory explores and explains the nature a person’s behaviour, which brings out their conforming and non-conforming behaviour in the physical and cyber space. Space Transition Theory is based on number of hypotheses:

  1. Persons with repressed criminal behaviour (in the physical space) have a propensity to commit crime in cyberspace, which, otherwise they would not commit in physical space, due to their status and position.
  2. Identity flexibility, dissociative Anonymity and the lack of deterrence in the cyberspace provide offenders the choice to commit cybercrime.
  3. Criminal behaviour of offenders in cyberspace is likely to be imported to physical space.
  4. Intermittent ventures of offenders into the cyberspace and the dynamic spatio-temporal nature of cyberspace provide the chance to escape.
  5. Strangers are likely to unite together in cyberspace to commit crime in the physical space. And associates in physical space are likely to unite to commit crime in cyberspace.
  6. Persons from a ‘closed society’ are more likely to commit crimes in cyberspace than persons from an ‘open society’.
  7. The conflict of norms and values of physical space with the norms and values of cyberspace may lead to cybercrimes.

It is apparent that the Space Transition Theory considers elements of the Social Bond Theory and tries to test proposed social bonds in the cyberspace domain; for instance, personal norms and values as well as involvement in social activities. This theory definitely contributed to cybercrime theories, but what about cyberterrorism? Space Transition Theory considers two factors that lead to cyberterrorism: repressed criminal behaviour in the physical space (1st hypothesis) and the unity of strangers in cyberspace to commit crime in the physical space (5th hypothesis). But what about other factors?

It is worth asking further questions; for instance to what extent the Space Transition Theory considers the potential of individuals’ observations, personality characteristics and socio-cultural settings on behaviours (cp. Social Learning and Social Cognitive Theories; Bandura, 1971; 1986)? Is it possible to establish linkages with the Relative Deprivation Theory of Terrorism, which is based on the premise that socio-political settings and situations influence ways of behaving and living of the individuals in specific environments (Abbasi et al., 2017)? How does the Frustration-Aggression Hypothesis, which proposes that aggression is the result of blocking or frustrating a person’s efforts to attain a goal (Friedman and Schustack, 2014), relate to cyberterrorism?

All these questions stress the need to explore a hybrid theory that considers further the social and psychological aspects of human behaviour of groups rather than individuals in cyberspace; a theory that explores to what extent relative deprivation nourishes cyberterrorism and whether there are other criminology and terrorism theories that can be explored and adapted to understand further the social and psychological drivers of cyberterrorism.


Abbasi, I., Khatwani, M.K, & Soomro, H. (2017). A review of psycho-social theories of terrorism. Journal of Grassroots, 51 (2), http://sujo-old.usindh.edu.pk/index.php/Grassroots/article/view/4079.

Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Prentice-Hall. Bandura, A. (1971). Social Learning Theory. General Learning Corporation.

Friedman, H., Schustack, M. (2014). Personality: Classic theories and modern research (5 ed.). Boston: Pearson.

Hardy, K. & Williams, G. (2014). What is ‘cyberterrorism’? Computer and internet technology in legal definitions of terrorism. In: Th. Chen, L. Jarvis, S. Macdonald (eds.), Cyberterrorism (pp. 1–23). Springer.

Hirschi, T. (1969). Causes of Delinquency. University of California Press.

Jaishankar, K. (2008). Space transition theory of cybercrimes. In F. Schmallager, M. Pittaro (eds.), Crimes of the Internet. (pp. 283-301). Prentice Hall.


Author: Yara Abdel Samar
Date: 29 April 2019