A recently published study claims that individuals who commit cyber-attacks against government entities also tend to download music illegally and participate in physical protests.
However, as Professor Thomas Holt of Michigan State University notes, such cyber-warriors aren’t typically acting out of some sense of national pride or patriotism.
"We were surprised to find that nationalism and patriotism were not predictors for cyber-attacks," explained Holt. "When officials attempt to identify today’s civilian cyber-warriors, they shouldn’t necessarily be looking for the person who is politically radical."
According to Holt, the faceless, borderless nature of the Internet allows individuals to mask their identity and better avoid detection. "This has given rise to the civilian cyber-warrior, who can potentially attack vulnerable resources such as municipal water systems and power grids," he said.
So what motivates the average cyber-warrior? To find out, Holt and fellow researcher Max Kilger surveyed 357 students from a US university about their willingness to engage in protests, both online and offline, and in cyber-attacks. Eleven percent of the participants were international students, representing about 30 countries.
Approximately 62 percent said they were willing to participate in a physical protest if they believed their home government was being oppressive. More than 77 percent said they would post a Facebook message about the oppression.
Interestingly, a much smaller number of participants said they would engage in a cyber-attack such as defacing a government website (13 percent) or compromising a government server (10 percent). Of those who would engage in a cyber-attack, Holt said three common factors emerged: the participants were also inclined to download illegal music, movies and other media; they were likely to engage in physical protest behaviors; and they were not motivated by a general outlook or attitude toward their government.
"It may be that these individual behaviors correlate not to patriotism, but instead to an altruistic belief that all groups should be treated equally," he concluded.