A Game Theoretical Approach to Hacktivism: Is Attack Likelihood a Product of Risks and Payoffs?

Jessica E. Bodford, Sau Kwan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


The current study examines hacktivism (i.e., hacking to convey a moral, ethical, or social justice message) through a general game theoretic framework - that is, as a product of costs and benefits. Given the inherent risk of carrying out a hacktivist attack (e.g., legal action, imprisonment), it would be rational for the user to weigh these risks against perceived benefits of carrying out the attack. As such, we examined computer science students' estimations of risks, payoffs, and attack likelihood through a game theoretic design. Furthermore, this study aims at constructing a descriptive profile of potential hacktivists, exploring two predicted covariates of attack decision making, namely, peer prevalence of hacking and sex differences. Contrary to expectations, results suggest that participants' estimations of attack likelihood stemmed solely from expected payoffs, rather than subjective risks. Peer prevalence significantly predicted increased payoffs and attack likelihood, suggesting an underlying descriptive norm in social networks. Notably, we observed no sex differences in the decision to attack, nor in the factors predicting attack likelihood. Implications for policymakers and the understanding and prevention of hacktivism are discussed, as are the possible ramifications of widely communicated payoffs over potential risks in hacking communities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)73-77
Number of pages5
JournalCyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2018


  • decision making
  • descriptive norms
  • game theory
  • hacking
  • hacktivism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Communication
  • Applied Psychology
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Computer Science Applications


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