Securing cyberspace
: development and evaluation of a novel research toolset

  • Samuela Bolgan

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Cybersecurity is an issue of great concern today; data breaches are becoming more frequent and are causing huge economic losses in almost all the industry sectors. The majority of them are caused by malicious or criminal attacks perpetrated by individuals also known as “hackers”. Although the mainstream portrait of hackers nowadays brings to mind the idea of cybercriminals, not all hackers are malicious ones. The word hacker in its original sense only describes a computer enthusiast and a skilled programmer who was eager to learn how computers work. The key to distinguish a good or a bad hacker lies only in the specific intent and the permission to hack. Recently many companies are indeed hiring hackers to test their systems and protect them from the malicious attacks. The strength of good hackers is that they possess the same skills as malicious ones but they use them to enhance security. At the present stage, the process of hiring candidates for internet security positions for the majority of organizations, and business corporations relies mainly on interviews, while few of them advertise some sort of hacking challenges to be solved by potential applicants in order to evaluate upfront their skills and abilities. Moreover, an in-depth review of the literature has revealed that, so far, no systematic investigation has been carried out on the cognitive skills that characterise ethical hackers, experts who are professionally trained to protect systems’ security. The present PhD thesis offers a contribution that starts filling this gap in the literature with an exploratory investigation on the cognitive skills related with hacking expertise on a behavioural level. Findings show that hackers possess stronger systemizing traits as compared to the general population, and suggest a role of the ability to systemize on hacking performance. Moreover, performance on hacking-related tasks is shown to be related with mental rotation abilities and a field independent cognitive style. These findings have both theoretical and practical applications that are extensively discussed; together with possible future directions.
Date of Award21 Feb 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Abertay University
SupervisorElena Rusconi (Supervisor) & Colin McLean (Supervisor)


  • Cognitive psychology
  • Ethical hacking
  • Individual differences
  • Systemizing

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