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Honour Among (Cyber)thieves?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 September 2018

Jonathan Lusthaus*
University of Oxford []
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It is well known that criminals, who operate outside the law and the protection of the state, face difficulties in cooperating due both to the requirement of secrecy and a deficit of trust. For cybercriminals the anonymity of the Internet creates further challenges, making it even more difficult to assess trustworthiness and enforce agreements. Yet, contrary to expectations, collaboration among cybercriminals is prevalent, and a sophisticated industry has emerged. The purpose of this paper is to address this puzzle in relation to profit-driven cybercrime. It draws on a collection of interviews with former cybercriminals that provide a valuable form of data on micro-level and often secretive interactions. It examines four key mechanisms that lead to improved cooperation: reputation, appearance, performance and enforcement. It also addresses the rarely discussed, and somewhat counterintuitive, role that offline interactions may play in enhancing collective action among cybercriminals.


Il est bien connu que les criminels, qui agissent en dehors de la loi et de la protection de l’État, font face à des difficultés particulières pour coopérer, notamment en raison de l’impératif de secret mais également du manque de confiance. Pour les cybercriminels, l’anonymat d’Internet crée des défis supplémentaires, en compliquant tant l’évaluation de la fiabilité que la mise en œuvre des accords. Pourtant, contrairement aux attentes, la collaboration entre les cybercriminels est répandue et une industrie sophistiquée a vu le jour. L’objectif de cet article est de résoudre cette énigme à partir du cas de la cybercriminalité à but lucratif. Il s’appuie sur une série d’entretiens avec d’anciens cybercriminels qui fournissent des données importantes sur leurs micro-interactions le plus souvent secrètes. Il examine quatre mécanismes clés qui permettent d’améliorer la coopération : la réputation, l’apparence, la performance et l’exécution. Il aborde également le rôle rarement discuté, et quelque peu contre-intuitif, que les interactions hors ligne peuvent jouer dans le renforcement de l’action collective parmi les cybercriminels.


Aufgrund der Geheimnispflicht und eines Vertrauensdefizites, arbeiten Kriminelle, die außerhalb der staatlichen Gesetze und deren Schutz handeln, allgemein weniger gern zusammen. Für Cyberkriminelle stellt die online Anonymität eine weitere Herausforderung dar, da sie die Bewertung der Vertrauenswürdigkeit sowie die Vertragsdurchsetzung erschwert. Entgegen aller Erwartungen ist die Zusammenarbeit zwischen Cyberkriminellen weit verbreitet und zu einer hochentwickelten Industrie geworden. Dieses Rätsel soll im Rahmen dieses Beitrags am Beispiel der gewinnbringenden Cyberkriminalität gelöst werden. Gespräche mit ehemaligen Cyberkriminellen liefern hier wichtige Informationen über die meist verschwiegenen Mikrointeraktionen. Vier Schlüsselmechanismen, die die Zusammenarbeit verbessern, werden untersucht: der Ruf, das Erscheinungsbild, die Leistung und die Ausführung. Es wird auch die selten erwähnte Rolle der offline Interaktionen kritisch diskutiert, die nicht intuitiv ist, aber die Zusammenarbeit der Cyberkriminellen fördert.

Research Article
Copyright © A.E.S. 2018 

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