Deviant Security
: The Technical Computer Security Practices of Cyber Criminals.

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


The dominant academic and practitioners’ perspective on security evolves around law-abiding referent objects of security who are under attack by law-breaking threat agents. This study turns the current perspective around and presents a new security paradigm. Suspects of crime have threat agents as well, and are therefore in need of security. The study takes cyber criminals as referent objects of security, and researches their technical computer security practices. While their protective practices are not necessarily deemed criminal by law, security policies and mechanisms of cyber criminals frequently deviate from prescribed bonafide cyber security standards. As such, this study is the first to present a full picture on these deviant security practices, based on unique access to public and confidential secondary data related to some of the world’s most serious and organized cyber criminals. Besides describing the protection of crime and the criminal, the observed practices are explained by the economics of deviant security: a combination of technical computer security principles and microeconomic theory. The new security paradigm lets us realize that cyber criminals have many countermeasures at their disposal in the preparation, pre-activity, activity and post-activity phases of their modi operandi. Their controls are not only driven by technical innovations, but also by cultural, economical, legal and political dimensions on a micro, meso and macro level. Deviant security is very much democratized, and indeed one of the prime causes of today’s efficiency and effectiveness crisis in police investigations. Yet every modus operandi comes with all kinds of minor, major and even unavoidable weaknesses, and therefore suggestions are made how police investigations can exploit these vulnerabilities and promote human security as a public good for all citizens. Ultimately, the findings of this socio-technical-legal project prove that deviant security is an academic field of study on its own with continually evolving research opportunities.
Date of Award7 May 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bristol
SupervisorAwais Rashid (Supervisor)


  • cyber crime, cyber security, cyber criminals, deviant security, investigations, police, law-enforcement

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