Cybercrime's Psychological Impacts
The mental toll victims endure after they are targeted online
April 11th, 2023Author: Savannah Ciak
When a malicious individual commits a crime online, on a network, or on a digital device, they have committed a cybercrime. Also referred to as cyberattacks, cybercrimes can affect people at home or work. The effects of cybercrimes can range from breach of confidentiality, compromised integrity, loss of accessibility, and financial damages. Unfortunately, the “mental impact of dealing with a cyberattack as a victim is often overlooked” (Hulse). The aftermath of cybercrime can cause immense feelings of anxiety and paranoia and can have a lasting negative impact on victims.
Examples of Cyber Attacks
Cyber attacks are malicious attempts to damage, disrupt, or gain access to unauthorized systems. Threat actors (those who intend to cause harm in the digital world) employ a variety of methods in their attacks. CrowdStrike, a cybersecurity company in Texas, outlines 10 of the most common types of cyber attacks (Baker).
The Pandemic and Cyber Attacks
The COVID-19 pandemic forced us into our homes, isolated, with online communication being one of the only viable means of connection. Some internet services reported an increase in usage from 40% to 100% compared to reports pre-pandemic (De’), and about 30% of American adults significantly increased their social media usage (Monteith). Many relied on the internet to provide access to entertainment, work, school, and shopping. The online gig economy and remote job industry increased during the pandemic. Workers enjoy the flexibility of working remotely, and the trends have continued past the end of the pandemic. Almost every aspect of life has moved to the digital world – including crime.
Cyber attacks can cause a breach of trust and confidentiality for victims, which can result in serious mental stress. Cyber attacks are akin to traumatic events and can, in the worst cases, result in anxiety, depression, and PTSD. When an individual’s passwords are breached, money stolen, and identity erased, they feel vulnerable and powerless. The ramifications of an attack can last long after the initial breach – there can be a long-term struggle to recover “credit or loans, housing, employment or medical services” (Guynn).
There are several factors that can increase a person’s likelihood of being targeted in a cyberattack and the likelihood of subsequent mental distress. Individuals on the internet are more likely to be targeted based on demographics such as age, online behavior, and impulsive tendencies.
Social engineering attacks commonly manipulate a victim’s emotions. Threat actors will create online posts with links to “donate” to a charitable cause, playing on the victim’s empathy. Romance scams occur when an attacker creates a false identity to gain a victim’s romantic affection and trust. The attacker will then abuse that trust to gain sensitive information or steal money. Virtual kidnapping ransom scams prey on the fear of a victim. “The scam typically begins with a phone call saying your family member is being held captive. The caller may allege your daughter has been kidnapped and you hear a female screaming in the background… callers will typically provide the victim with specific instructions to ensure a safe return of the family member”(Beware of Virtual Kidnapping Ransom Scam). Such scams can be emotionally intense and appear all too real for the victims, leaving them with long-term psychological damage.
Cyberbullying is the malicious use of technology to harass and bully a person while creating an imbalance of power. Such attacks on the internet can include intimidating messages, blackmail, revenge porn, rumors, and any other form of abuse. Cyberbullying laws vary state-to-state and internationally. In states where the laws specify cyberbullying as a crime, those who commit it can be subject to the same judicial persecution that a person who committed a cybercrime would be. The inconsistency of cyber laws can make achieving justice for victims extremely difficult. Victims of cyberbullying can experience severe emotional damage, including depression, anxiety, PTSD, and social isolation.
Prevention and Resources
Preventing cybercrime requires awareness and proactive security measures. You can check out our team’s website, https://www.cybervt.com/, for more information about securing your digital landscape. Under the materials section, we offer great documentation and advice, including: