Ever wonder what it is that makes a person vulnerable to cybercrime? Researchers from Michigan State University believe they have the answer and it has to do with a specific personality type.

Those likely to impulse shop online, download music and compulsively email, according to the research team, possess a specific personality trait that makes them an ideal target for malware and other cyber-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."

According to Holt, low self-control comes in many types and is characterized by demonstrations of short-sightedness, physical rather than verbal behaviors, negligence and the failure to delay gratification.

"Self-control is an idea that's been looked at heavily in criminology in terms of its connection to committing crimes," Holt said. "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."

Looking at the self-control behaviors of almost 6,000 survey respondents along with their online behaviors, Holt asked questions designed to reveal how respondents might behave in a particular situation. To measure online behavior, the research team focused on questions concerning their computers and whether they were slow to process or if they had experienced unexpected pop-ups, crashing and if their designated homepage changed on their browsers.

"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."

As such, cybercriminals and hackers understand that targets with low self-control are the ones that will cull the internet for what they think they want — a behavior that cybercriminals profit from as they understand which files, sites and methods to attack.

Grasping the type of personality that is vulnerable to such attacks, according to Holt, is just as vital to combatting cybercrime as prevention from a technological approach where computer scientists look at developing software solutions for blocking infections or messages.

"There are human aspects of cybercrime that we don't touch because we focus on the technical side to fix it," he said. "But if we can understand the human side, we might find solutions that are more effective for policy and intervention."

Holt envisions that the future of fighting cybercrime will be based on bridging the divide between the technical and social sciences.

"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," Holt said. "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."

The research is published in the journal Social Science Computer Review.

To contact the author of this article, email mdonlon@globalspec.com