Project Area: Criminal justice system

Lead Researcher: Katy-Louise Payne

Institution: Bath University

Status: Completed


CybercrimeCybercrime is defined as crimes committed through the use of information communication technology. There is a growing perception among law enforcement agencies that a significant number of those being arrested in connection with cybercrime may be on the autism spectrum. This is an area that has received much attention in the media but little in the way of systematic research. Research Autism undertook a research project to explore the profiles of cyber offenders and their pathways into such offending. It provided important information on the nature and size of this issue, the degree to which autistic individuals are represented in these offences. The project also identified ;possible risk factors that lead to cybercrime activity, and timely preventative and diversion measures.



The project explored the relationship between autism and cybercrime in order to:

  • Ascertain the level of autistic traits in cyber-offenders and compare these with non-cyber offenders and the general public. This shed light on whether there is an over representation of individuals on the autism spectrum involved in cybercrime.
  • Explore the nature and characteristics of cyber-offending and how such individuals became involved in such offending (pathways)
  • Inform and develop ideas on how such offending can be prevented in autistic individuals

Activities: In order to meet these objectives, we carried out an anonymous online survey. The sample comprised 290 participants who reported having not had contact with the criminal justice system. There were 194 male and 96 female participants, aged 14 to 74 with a mean age of 24.24. Participants were recruited through various channels including the University of Bath participant databases containing computer science students and alumni. In addition, computer science students in local schools were contacted as was the ‘Cyber Security Challenge’—an organisation looking to promote the development of cyber-skilled individuals. Through these channels we aimed to obtain a sample likely to contain participants with advanced digital skills.


This was the first study to empirically explore whether autism, autistic-like traits, explicit social cognition, interpersonal support and digital skills were predictors of cyber-dependent criminality. Whilst higher levels of autistic-like traits were associated with a greater risk of committing cyber-dependent crime, a self-reported diagnosis of autism was associated with a decreased risk of committing cyber-dependent crime. Around 40% of the association between autistic-like traits and cyber-dependent crime was attributable to greater levels of advanced digital skills. Basic digital skills were also found to be a mediator between autistic-like traits and cyber-dependent crime, although they accounted for a smaller proportion of the association than advanced digital skills.


There were  a number of immediate and longer-term impacts from the project. Immediate impacts included:

  • Identifying whether or not an autism spectrum condition makes for a greater vulnerability to cyber offending
  • Raising awareness of autism and cyber offending in law enforcement agencies
  • Understanding the pathways into cyber offending to aid prevention

Longer term impacts may include:

  • Developing strategies for raising awareness of risk factors and better prevention of cybercrime by individuals on the autism spectrum
  • Undertaking further research into this area to explore more nuanced scenarios and the effectiveness of prevention and diversion programmes

Other information:

This research builds on the previous Research Autism funded study of autism,  cybercrime  and international law enforcement by Rebecca Ledingham of Interpol and Richard Mills and published in Advances in Autism. 
The current study was funded by Research Autism, Barclays and the National Crime Agency

More information: 

Please see  Payne K.L. et al (2019)  Is there a relationship between cyber-dependent crime, autistic-like traits and autism? Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-019-04119-5

Related Pages

05 Sep 2019