Author ORCID Identifier

Date of Award

Spring 4-21-2024

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Criminal Justice

First Advisor

David Maimon

Second Advisor

William Sabol

Third Advisor

Mark Reed

Fourth Advisor

C. Jordan Howell


The rapid development of the internet has far outpaced our ability to protect the internet. As new technologies have developed, so have new ways to exploit these technologies to use them for criminal purposes. This is extremely true of the core of the internet, websites. While the number of websites both personal and business focused have skyrocketed, so too have the number of cyber-attacks against these sites. These cyber-attacks are known as website defacements and can cause costly losses and damage the reputation of their internet victims. In such an attack the website defacer gains unauthorized access to the website and changes the appearance of the website, rendering it inoperable for extended periods of time.

Prior research on website defacers has provided a preliminary understanding of the motivation and attack preferences of website defacers but given the relative newness of this line of research there are many avenues to deepen our understanding beyond description of these brazen cybercriminals. This dissertation addresses two such areas in need of further study by examining the criminal careers of website defacers and how they respond to potential changes in capable guardianship. As our review of the literature shows, over half of the studies in this literature utilize a data source that was shown to be faulty in measuring the motivational factors of website defacement. Thus, this dissertation used detailed data created by tracking the individual offending patterns of website defacers and utilizing open-source intelligence methods to gather information about each defacer’s characteristics in the sample, rather than the previously mentioned data source.

This three-paper dissertation contains a scoping review of the website defacement literature, the first of its kind, to reveal the existing scholarly gaps in this field of research. This dissertation’s second paper uses my previously published paper using this data that revealed important findings on the criminal trajectories of website defacers. The dissertation closes with the first study to examine the effect of holidays on website defacement attack frequencies. These papers serve to outline the direction of future research, aid law enforcement agencies, and bolster our understanding of these cybercriminals’ activities.