Information Age Darkside
by Michael Nuccitelli, Psy.D.
As a forensic psychologist with experience in theoretical criminology and abnormal psychology, this writer has formulated a psychological, sociological & criminological construct for the growing dimension known as cyberspace. In the manuscript that follows, this writer introduces his theoretical paradigm and profile, iPredator, who he believes to be the modern-day criminal and psychological reprobate. This new breed of human predator uses Information and Communications Technology (ICT) to profile, locate, track and attack their human prey. The typologies & behavioral patterns of iPredator include: cyberbullying, cyber harassment, cyberstalking, cybercrime, online sexual predation, internet trolls, cyberstealth, online psychopathy, online deception and cyber terrorism. In 2014, this writer added online child pornography consumer/distributors as a new typology.
Within this construct, cyber harassment is the adult form of cyberbullying and used when the perpetrator is an adult. Vital to understanding the theoretical core of iPredator is this writer’s staunch belief that iPredators are variants of classical criminals, deviants and nefarious entities. ICT and the Information Age has created a new dimension leading to an entirely new population of humanity engaged in malevolent, harmful and deceptive practices. ICT and cyberspace are not tools used by the sociopath, deviant, narcissist or classic criminal, but part of a new generation that will be permanent fixtures to humanity for centuries to follow.
The term, iPredator, is a global construct designed to include any child, adult, business entity or organized group who uses ICT to harm, abuse, steal from, assault or defame other ICT users. Also included in this construct are people who use ICT to benefit from the victimization and harm of others, but are not the principal perpetrators. Prime examples of this iPredator subset are criminals who engage in the sale and profit of child pornography using ICT. As ICT advances and humanity becomes more dependent upon information technology, it is inevitable the typologies of iPredator will expand as well. The 2013 formal definition of iPredator is as follows:
iPredator: A person, group or nation who, directly or indirectly, engages in exploitation, victimization, coercion, stalking, theft or disparagement of others using Information and Communications Technology (ICT). iPredators are driven by deviant fantasies, desires for power and control, retribution, religious fanaticism, political reprisal, psychiatric illness, perceptual distortions, peer acceptance or personal and financial gain. iPredators can be any age or gender and are not bound by economic status, race, religion or national heritage.
iPredator is a global term used to distinguish anyone who engages in criminal, coercive, deviant or abusive behaviors using ICT. Central to the construct is the premise that Information Age criminals, deviants and the violently disturbed are psychopathological classifications new to humanity. Whether the offender is a cyberbully, cyberstalker, cyber harasser, cyber criminal, online sexual predator, cyber terrorist, internet troll, online child pornography consumer/distributor or engaged in internet defamation or nefarious cyber deception, they fall within the scope of iPredator. The three criteria used to define an iPredator include:
- I. A self-awareness of causing harm to others, directly or indirectly, using ICT.
- II. The usage of ICT to obtain, tamper with, exchange and deliver harmful information.
- III. A general understanding of Cyberstealth used to engage in criminal or deviant activities or to profile, identify, locate, stalk and engage a target.
Unlike human predators prior to the Information Age, iPredators rely on the multitude of benefits offered by ICT. These assistances include exchange of information over long distances, rapidity of information exchanged and the seemingly infinite access to data available. Malevolent in intent, iPredators rely on their capacity to deceive others using ICT in the abstract and artificial electronic universe known as cyberspace. Therefore, as the internet naturally offers all ICT users anonymity, if they decide, iPredators actively design online profiles and diversionary tactics to remain undetected and untraceable.
Cyberstealth, a sub-tenet of iPredator, is a covert method by which iPredators attempt to establish and sustain complete anonymity while they engage in ICT activities planning their next assault, investigating innovative surveillance technologies or researching the social profiles of their next target. Concurrent with the concept of Cyberstealth is iPredator Victim Intuition (IVI). An iPredator’s IVI is their aptitude to sense a target’s ODDOR (Offline Distress Dictates Online Response), online & offline vulnerabilities, psychological weaknesses, technological limitations, increasing their success of a cyber-attack with minimal ramifications.
On April 6, 2012, the owner of a small Internet service provider in Indiana was charged with blackmailing children into performing sexually explicit acts over a webcam. Richard Leon Finkbiner, age 39, of Brazil, Indiana was charged with sexual exploitation of children. The allegations involved two 14-year-old boys, but the FBI found thousands of sexually explicit images and videos on Finkbiner’s computer suggesting hundreds of other victims were involved in his extortion scheme. Using a fake identity, Finkbiner frequented anonymous video chat websites to locate children online. He used “fake webcam” software to display pornographic videos claiming to be live feeds of himself from his webcam.
While showing these videos, Finkbiner encouraged them to engage in sexually explicit or suggestive activity themselves, which he secretly recorded. Finkbiner then threatened to make these videos available to their parents, friends and coaches. He also threatened to post their images on gay pornographic websites.
Finkbiner was quoted as telling one victim that he was a “hacker” who knew how to remain anonymous. “Only I have this link,” Finkbiner wrote to one victim, asking, “You want to play this game or you want to be a gay porn star?” To another, Finkbiner acknowledged, “Yes it is illegal and I’m ok with that,” warning: “If you don’t play I promise I’ll fuck your life over… I won’t get caught I’m a hacker I covered my tracks.” The level of terror his threats caused his victims were chillingly revealed in the transcript of an email message one of the boys sent to Finkbiner pleading, “All I ask from you is to delete it please I’m only 14, please just do this to somebody else, not me please.” Prosecutors said the case was an example of Sextortion.
Crime authorities define sextortion as iPredators catching victims in embarrassing situations online and threatening to expose them unless they create sexually explicit photos or videos for the iPredator. As of October 2012, the presence of hundreds of victims alleged to have been perpetrated by Richard Leon Finkbiner puts their investigation and prosecution among the larger, if not largest, sextortion case prosecutors have ever undertaken in the United States.
On May 4, 2011, William Francis Melchert-Dinkel was convicted on two counts of aiding suicide in the death of 32-year-old Mark Drybrough, of Coventry, England, who hanged himself in 2005 and 18-year-old Nadia Kajouji of Brampton, Ontario, who jumped into a frozen river in 2008. State prosecutors presented evidence he posed online as a 28-year-old, depressed female nurse engaged in encouraging, advising and assisting young adults to commit Internet suicide. Melchert-Dinkel frequented suicide chat rooms under the names “Li Dao,” “Cami D,” and “Falcongirl.” He is the first person charged and convicted of assisted suicide using the Internet. Melchert-Dinkel was obsessed with hanging, suicide and searching out potential suicide victims online.
Court documents said Melchert-Dinkel told police he did it for the “thrill of the chase.” He acknowledged participating in online chats about suicide with an estimated twenty people, entered into felonious suicide pacts with ten and five he believed succeeded. Central to his deviant obsession, Melchert-Dinkel encouraged his victims to stream their suicides live on webcam for him to watch. Sentenced on May 4, 2011, Melchert-Dinkel was given 320 days in jail and for ten years thereafter, incarcerated for two days per year on the anniversaries of the victim’s deaths.
In September 2012, The 2012 Norton Cyber Crime Report was released that studied the impact of cyber crime and included a survey of 12,000 adults in 24 countries. The report provided an authoritative and accurate picture of the scope of cyber crime globally and the results were shocking.
2012 Norton Cybercrime Report PDF Download
[click hyperlink for pdf report]
The 2011 Norton study calculated the cost of global cyber crime at 114 billion dollars annually. Based on the value victims surveyed placed on time lost due to their cyber crime experiences, an additional 274 billion dollars were lost. With 431 million adult victims at an annual price of 388 billion dollars globally based on financial losses and time lost, cyber crime cost the world significantly more than the global black market in marijuana, cocaine and heroin combined estimated to be $288 billion dollars. According to the Norton Cyber Crime Report, more than 2/3 of online adults (69%) had been a victim of cyber crime in their lifetime.
Every second 14 adults became a victim of cyber crime, resulting in more than one million cyber crime victims a day. For the first time, the Norton Cyber Crime Report revealed that 10% of adults online had experienced cyber crime on their mobile phone. In fact, the Symantec Internet Security Threat Report, Volume 16 reported there were 42% more mobile vulnerabilities in 2010 compared to the previous year.
With these incredible results, it signified that cyber criminals were starting to focus their efforts on the mobile device users. The number of reported new mobile operating system vulnerabilities increased, from 115 in 2009 to 163 in 2010. In addition to threats on mobile devices, increased social networking and a lack of protection were considered the main culprits behind the growing number of cyber crime victims. On September 22, 2010, Tyler Clementi (December 19, 1991–September 22, 2010,) an eighteen-year-old student attending Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey, jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge in New York. His roommate and a fellow hall mate used an instant messaging software application to view, without Clementi’s knowledge, Clementi kissing another man.
The roommate later attempted to view Clementi’s sexual encounters a second time and drew attention to the event by making Twitter postings to his 150 followers and in private messages to his friends. After discovering that his roommate had secretly used a webcam to stream his romantic interlude with another man over the Internet, he jumped off the George Washington Bridge. The roommate, who faced fifteen charges, included invasion of privacy, witness tampering, and evidence with further charges of bias intimidation attached to some of the basic charges. The roommate was found guilty of all 15 counts on March 16, 2012, including all four bias intimidation charges. He was not charged with a role in the suicide itself. His accomplice was not charged in exchange for testifying against the roommate and doing community service.
The suicide of Mr. Clementi focused the United States on the victimization of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth and the growth and negative impact of cyber bullying. Public figures, including Ellen DeGeneres and President Barack Obama, spoke out about the tragedy and New Jersey legislators enacted the nation’s toughest law against bullying and harassment in January 2011.
“Welcome to the unseemly and perverse world of iPredator.”
Michael Nuccitelli Psy.D., C.F.C. (2011)
As stated above in the formal definition, iPredator is a global term used to distinguish all online users who engage in criminal, deviant or abusive behaviors using ICT. Whether the offender is a cyberbully, cyberstalker, cybercriminal, online sexual predator,online child pornography consumer/distributor, internet troll or cyber terrorist, they fall within the scope of iPredator. There are three criteria used to define an iPredator including:
- I. A self-awareness of causing harm to others, directly or indirectly, using ICT.
- II. The intermittent to frequent usage of ICT to obtain, exchange and deliver harmful information.
- III. A general understanding of Cyberstealth to engage in criminal or deviant acts or to profile, identify, locate, stalk and engage a target.
When an offender profile includes these three characteristics, they meet the definition of iPredator. Of the three measures used to define an iPredator, the first criteria, a self-awareness of causing harm to others, directly or indirectly, using ICT, can be difficult to confirm unless the online user has personally assessed their own motivations. When others attempt to valuate if someone is an iPredator using factor one, they must use circumstantial evidence leading to the conclusion the ICT user is aware of the direct or indirect harm they are causing others using ICT.
If a child meets the three iPredator criteria stated, they are defined as iPredators, just as adults, and considered to be just as dangerous and sinister as adults.
In relationship to cyber bullying, there is a small percentage of young ICT users who are either ignorant of the harm they are causing another child or genuinely believe they are joking. Another small sub-group of ICT offenders not meeting the criteria defining an iPredator are those suffering from a verifiable psychiatric disorder (i.e. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, etc.) as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association. ICT users who suffer from severe psychiatric disorders may not be aware that their ICT activities are causing the recipient significant distress. Of the total pool of suspected and genuine iPredators, this writer estimates 1-3% of ICT perpetrators are not aware of the direct or indirect harm they are inflicting upon their victims and do not fit the criteria for iPredator.
Whereas the American judicial system casts a large net for defining the intent and culpability of a defendant, this proverbial net is greatly decreased when defining an iPredator. If an ICT user suspects they are causing others harm, engages in ICT activities and uses the veil of anonymity afforded to all ICT users, they are both culpable for their actions and defined as an iPredator.
iPredator Victim Intuition (IVI)
A fourth criterion, not included in the triad defining an iPredator, is what this writer has termed iPredator Victim Intuition (IVI) and reserved for seasoned iPredators. IVI is the aptitude to sense a target’s online vulnerabilities, weaknesses and technological limitations increasing their success with minimal ramifications. iPredators, through practice and learning, develop a sense and/or skill of being able to experience an intuition to know what ICT user will be a successful target.
Just as classic criminals can “case” a home or sexual predators choose the most vulnerable child to abduct, the iPredator is able to do the same using information they compile from a variety of online and offline sources and contacts they may or may not have with a potential victim. Based on the typology of iPredator, the areas they investigate in their strategy of targeting a victim include:
- The amount of personal information a potential target discloses using ICT.
- The frequency a potential target discloses their contact information using ICT.
- The content of the information a potential target discloses using ICT.
- The lack of ICT safety measures a potential target institutes online.
- The potential targets willingness to discuss sensitive issues including sexual topics, financial information, their physical location, parental or adult monitoring of their ICT activities, experiences of distress at home, work, school and interpersonal or intrapersonal issues.
- The amount of time the potential target spends online.
- The type of information a potential target discloses on their social networking profiles (i.e. Facebook, MySpace, MyYearbook, LinkedIn etc.)
- The potential target’s offline and ICT absent demeanor leading the iPredator to conclude the ICT user will be an easy target.
- The potential target’s ignorance to appropriately confront negative information being generated by an iPredator.
- The potential target’s probability of not having social system support, legal/law enforcement support or knowledge of intervention strategies if attacked via ICT.
- The quantity and themes of images and/or videos a potential target shares using ICT.
- The pattern of “likes” and “dislikes” an ICT user discloses on their social networking site profiles.
- The frequency a potential target changes their profile images and information on their social networking site profiles.
- Images and/or videos showing the potential target’s economic status, the layout of their residence or their material objects they or their loved ones own.
- Images, videos and posts disseminated using ICT of the potential target’s choice of lifestyle and/or material objects.
- Images, videos and posts disseminated using ICT of the potential target’s lifestyle.
- Images, videos and posts disseminated using ICT of the potential target’s needs, wishes and desires.
- Images, videos and posts disseminated using ICT suggesting the potential target is suffering from psychological and/or psycho-social dysfunction.
Although there are other factors an iPredator uses in their repertoire of exhibiting IVI, the eighteen factors listed are recommended to evaluate by all online users to reduce their chances of becoming an iPredator target. Not included in these factors and apply to all online users is the unfortunate reality of being targeted by an iPredator as part of a mass trolling scheme. This occurs most often in cyber crime when the potential target receives an email asking them to open an attachment or gulled into providing personal information. This cyber crime and cyber bullying tactic is often called “Phishing.”
An iPredator’s IVI acumen is based on practice, trial and error, understanding of human behavior and knowledge of Internet safety practices and ICT. Just as a locksmith has expertise at unlocking locks, an iPredator has expertise choosing a target they have concluded will not cause them to be identified, apprehended or punished. An iPredator’s IVI falls upon a continuum of dexterity whereby some iPredators are advanced in their IVI skills and other iPredators are novices. Whether the iPredator is advanced or novice in their IVI acumen, the fact that they engage in developing an IVI makes them a potentially dangerous ICT user.