De-coding the character of a hacker

June 1, 2016, Frontiers
Hackers more likely to show autistic-like traits. Credit: Pixabay

Malicious hacking online costs the private and corporate sectors up to $575 billion annually, according to internet security firm McAfee. While security agencies seek out "ethical" hackers to help combat such attacks, little is known about the personality traits that lead people to pursue and excel at hacking. A recent study published on Frontiers in Human Neuroscience now shows that a characteristic called systemizing provides insight into what makes and motivates a hacker.

"We found a positive association between an individual's drive to build and understand systems—called 'systemizing'—and hacking skills and expertise," says Dr. Elena Rusconi of the Division of Psychology at Abertay University in Dundee, UK, "In particular, we found that this drive is positively and specifically correlated with code-breaking performance."

In this study, Dr. Rusconi's group found that volunteer "ethical" hackers performed far above average on a series of code-breaking challenges designed to assess their systemizing skills. According to a cognitive and behavioral survey, these hackers also self-reported characteristics that indicated a strong tendency towards systemizing.

Systemizing is also frequently associated with autism and so Rusconi additionally profiled participants for other autistic-like behaviors and skills. Although none were actually autistic, hackers self-reported higher scores for attention to detail, another autism-like trait. Interestingly, stronger systemizing scores, but not attention to detail, correlated with more skillful code-breaking. In contrast, participants with higher attention to detail performed better on a detail-oriented task such as X-ray image screening.

These results give insight into the psychology and skillset that might predispose an individual towards a variety of security professions. Such information could be used to improve training programs, job candidate profiling, and predictions of job performance. Furthermore, the finding that some autism-associated skills can benefit security operations may open new employment opportunities to autistic individuals.

"We are finding evidence that the positive traits of autism can predict better performance in security tasks," says Rusconi. "This suggests a new way to inform personnel selection in security jobs and to improve the match between individual predispositions and job assignment."

According to a National Autistic Society estimate, only 15% of autistic individuals have full-time employment, although many are both willing and able to work. Although it remains to be seen how well autistic people would perform in similar studies, Rusconi's findings call for further exploration of the potential benefits of occupations for these individuals, as well as the conditions that would best help them succeed.

Explore further: Study of half a million people reveals sex and job predict how many autistic traits you have

More information: India Harvey et al, Systemizers Are Better Code-Breakers: Self-Reported Systemizing Predicts Code-Breaking Performance in Expert Hackers and Naïve Participants, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience (2016). DOI: 10.3389/fnhum.2016.00229

Related Stories

Study of half a million people reveals sex and job predict how many autistic traits you have

November 3, 2015
Measuring autistic traits in just under half a million people reveals that your sex, and whether you work in a STEM (science, technology, engineering or mathematics) job, predict how many autistic traits you have, according ...

Girls with anorexia have elevated autistic traits

August 7, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—Girls with anorexia nervosa show a mild echo of the characteristics of autism, suggests new research in the journal Molecular Autism.

'I care for you,' says the autistic moral brain

March 29, 2016
Is it true that autistic people are cold and feel no empath? It is a pervasive stereotype, but when analyzed through the lens of science, reality turns out to be quite different. According to a study at SISSA carried out ...

Diagnosed autism is more common in an IT-rich region

June 20, 2011
A new study from Cambridge University has for the first time found that autism diagnoses are more common in an IT-rich region.

Understanding social impairments in autism

December 21, 2015
Scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich together with colleagues in Cologne and Zürich have used mathematical models to explain differences in social behaviour associated with autistic personality ...

Microsoft starts program to hire workers with autism

April 7, 2015
US technology giant Microsoft has launched a pilot program to hire autistic workers at its headquarters in Washington state.

Recommended for you

How does brain structure influence performance on language tasks?

October 17, 2018
The architecture of each person's brain is unique, and differences may influence how quickly people can complete various cognitive tasks.

Regulating microglial activity may reduce inflammation in neurodegenerative diseases

October 17, 2018
A group of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) investigators is proposing that targeting immune checkpoints—molecules that regulate the activity of the immune system—in immune cells called microglia could reduce the ...

New imaging tool captures how sound moves through the chinchilla ear

October 17, 2018
Researchers have developed a new device that can be used to visualize how sound-induced vibrations travel through the ear. The technology is providing new insight into how the ear receives and processes sound waves and, with ...

Sensory perception is not a one-way street

October 17, 2018
When we interact with the world, such as when we reach out to touch an object, the brain actively changes incoming sensory signals based on anticipation. This so-called 'sensory gating' has now been investigated by neuroscientists ...

Environmental factors may trigger onset of multiple sclerosis

October 16, 2018
A new Tel Aviv University study finds that certain environmental conditions may precipitate structural changes that take place in myelin sheaths in the onset of multiple sclerosis (MS). Myelin sheaths are the "insulating ...

Cesarean-born mice show altered patterns of brain development, study finds

October 15, 2018
Cesarean-born mice show altered patterns of cell death across the brain, exhibiting greater nerve cell death than vaginally delivered mice in at least one brain area, a finding by Georgia State University researchers that ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.