It is widely believed that cybercriminals are mostly men. In most hacker movies, it is the men who start the digital rebellion and administer cyber justice. And in the reports of large cybersecurity companies, the pronouns “he”, “his” are often used instead of the gender-neutral “they” and “them”.
However, as the latest study by TrendMicro shows, often people think in stereotypes. And while it's difficult to pinpoint the exact demographics of cybercriminals, the company leans towards females making up around 30% of participants in cybercriminal forums.
In its study, TrendMicro analyzed 10 popular cybercrime forums on the dark web, including five in English: Sinister, Cracked, Breached, Hackforums, and Raidforum. Five more were Russian-speaking: XSS, Exploit, Vavilon, BHF and WWH-Club.
TrendMicro noted a clear shift in cybercriminal attitudes towards gender. Previously, women reportedly chose not to reveal their gender in order to better "do business". Perhaps in the past they paid more attention to this and could doubt the professional qualities of a hacker girl. However, now the gender factor has become less important in such communities.
You won’t surprise anyone if a representative of the fair sex leaks confidential databases of large companies into the public domain. Experience and skills are much more valued in underground forums than gender. While women are still a minority in the cybercriminal community, their presence and influence should not be overlooked.
Since users of hacker forums are mostly anonymous, TrendMicro researchers used the SEMrush tool, which is commonly used for search marketing, to analyze it. The researchers compared the results obtained with Stack Overflow and Reddit, sites popular among IT enthusiasts. Experts admitted that they cannot give 100% accuracy in the results of the tool, but the data obtained should be close to the truth.
So, according to the analysis using SEMrush, in most cybercrime forums, on average, about 40% of visitors turned out to be girls. However, on the English-language forum Sinister, this figure was as much as 61%. And only 12% of girls were noted on the Stack Overflow forum dedicated to programming and development.
For greater accuracy, the researchers also resorted to another method for determining the gender of potential candidates. They analyzed the written messages of forum users using the Gender Analyzer V5 machine learning tool, which can accurately determine the gender of its author by the style of the text.
Adding up all the data, TrendMicro experts came to the conclusion that approximately 3 out of 10 cybercriminals identify themselves as women. And according to a study by ISC2, an IT security training company, women now make up about a quarter of the total number of employees in cybersecurity companies.
The number of female cybersecurity professionals has been gradually increasing in recent years. Cybersecurity Ventures, for example, predicts that by 2025 women will make up an average of 30% of all professionals, and by 2031 this number is projected to increase to 35%.
Gender differences in access to technology, education and employment may also influence which individuals are more likely to commit cybercrime. As more and more women have begun to study and work in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields in recent years, it is not surprising that this trend has spread to underground cybercriminal communities as well.