A Beginner’s Guide to Space Transition Theory

Pallavi SinghLaw1 Comment

Space Transition Theory explains the nature & behaviour leading to commission of cyber crime with time, space and circumstances as catalysts.

The nature of cyber crimes evolves rapidly in line with technological developments. To understand why cyber crimes happen, various cyber criminology theories have attempted to explain this. These theories seek to diagnose the minuscule reason leading to the occurrence of cyber crime. The main subject-matter of debate among the research community is whether cyber crime is a new form of crime or a traditional crime committed in a newer version. This article focuses on Dr K. Jaishankar’s Space Transition Theory, which adequately defines cyber criminology and contributes immense value to cyber jurisprudence. It explains not only how the nature and behaviour of cyber crimes lead to the commission of an offence but also the time, space, and circumstances that act as catalysts in facilitating the crime.

What does this theory say?

The space transition theory explains the causation of crime in cyber space. It was introduced as a chapter in the book “Crimes of the Internet” by Dr K. Jaishankar in 2008. Considered one of the most cited theories in cyber criminology, it marked a significant step in the evolution of cyber crime theories. This theory explains the overall phenomenon of cyber crime, which other theories of the time failed to do so. According to Dr Jaishankar, space transition theory explains the nature of the behaviour of the persons who bring out their conforming and non-conforming behaviour in physical and cyber spaces. It involves the movement of persons from one space to another (i.e., from physical space to cyber space and vice versa). It argues that people behave differently when they move from one space to another.

He has further elaborated this theory into seven postulates that explain the theory’s propositions. They are as follows:

  1. Individuals with repressed criminal behaviour in the physical space have the propensity to commit crimes in cyber space. They otherwise would not commit in physical space due to their status and position.
  2. Identity, flexibility, dissociative anonymity, and lack of deterrence factors in cyber space provide the offenders with the choice to commit cyber crimes.
  3. Offenders’ criminal behaviour in cyber space is likely to be imported into physical space, and in turn, their behaviour in physical space may be exported to cyber space as well.
  4. Intermittent ventures of offenders into cyber space and the dynamic spatiotemporal nature of cyber space provide the chance to escape.
  5. Strangers are likely to unite together in cyber space to commit crimes in physical space. Associates of physical space are likely to unite together to commit crimes in cyber space.
  6. Persons from a closed society are more likely to commit crimes in cyber space than those from an open society.
  7. The conflict of norms and values of physical space with the norms and values of cyber space may lead to cyber crimes.

What do the other researchers say?

Researchers have conducted various empirical studies to test the utility and applicability of space transition theory. A 2020 research focused on applying this theory to analyse revenge pornography cases. This research found that some of the postulates of this theory apply only to certain kinds of cyber crimes. At the same time, testing some of the propositions may be difficult. This attempts to question the universal application of the theory and becomes the reason for its criticism. Nonetheless, the research community has highly appreciated the theory and considered it more relevant than other existing theories. After all, considering the diverse nature of cyber crimes, it is also possible that a single cyber crime theory may not be sufficient to define all possible types of cyber crimes.

In a paper published by researchers from the University of Detroit Mercy, they recognised that technological developments call for specific cyber crime theories like space transition theory. Such theories will help understand the behaviour and cause of a cyber offence. Furthermore, they observed that it is not recommended that the stereotypical thought regarding the behaviour of cyber criminals is followed without paying attention to the criminals and their motivation for committing a cyber crime. This observation is very much in line with the space transition theory. This paper also highlighted the limitations of cyber criminology theories regarding the evidence, nature of criminal actors, and the presumptions drawn for the commission of an offence.

A Walden University scholar conducted a study wherein he conducted participant interviews and workplace observations to solicit a small rural business owner’s knowledge of the cyber exploitation of employees through the internet. This study suggests that the study of the space transition theory in connection with Bandura’s theory of selective moral disengagement leads to the invention of a third theory. This third theory explains the conducive environment that leads to cyber crime from both the victim’s and the perpetrator’s point of view. On the other hand, researchers from Cleveland State University supported the space transition theory while discussing frauds related to digital assets. They relied on this theory to explain the occurrence of frauds related to digital assets. The researchers opined that such theories are helpful in mitigating cyber crime and the risks posed in cyber space.

In a blog post, the Centre of Excellence in Terrorism, Resilience, Intelligence and Organised Crime Research (CENTRIC) at Sheffield Hallam University underlined the importance of space transition theory to understanding cyber crime behaviour. However, it calls for a hybrid theory that considers the social and psychological aspects of human behaviour in groups rather than individuals.

Then and Now

(The Cyber Blog India team reached out to Dr K. Jaishankar to share his views on his original thought process behind the theory in 2007 and his interpretation of the theory in 2024 in the context of prevalent cyber crimes today. His inputs are in navy blue colour below.)

Space transition theory (STT) of cyber crimes, developed by me in 2008, posits that the nature of cyber crime evolves as technology advances and users’ transition between different online platforms and spaces. In 2024, interpreting this theory in the context of prevalent cyber crimes reflects the dynamic and complex nature of modern digital environments.

Firstly, the proliferation of social media platforms, online marketplaces, and communication tools has created diverse spaces for cyber criminal activities to occur. STT suggests that cyber criminals adapt their tactics to exploit vulnerabilities in these digital spaces, whether through phishing scams on social media, fraudulent transactions on e-commerce platforms, or identity theft via messaging apps. The theory highlights the fluidity of cyber crimes, where perpetrators seamlessly navigate between different online activities to perpetrate their illicit activities.

Moreover, the emergence of new technologies such as IoT, AI, and cryptocurrencies has introduced novel challenges in cyber space. STT emphasises how cyber criminals leverage these technologies to perpetrate sophisticated attacks, including ransomware targeting IoT devices, AI-powered cyber attacks that evade traditional security measures, and cryptocurrency-related crimes such as cryptojacking and ransomware payments. The theory underscores the importance of understanding the evolving cyber threat landscape and adapting cyber security strategies accordingly.

Furthermore, STT acknowledges the interconnectedness of cyber space with physical space, highlighting how cyber crimes can have real-world impacts. In 2024, this interpretation is particularly relevant in cyber physical systems, where cyber attacks on critical infrastructure, smart cities, and industrial control systems pose significant risks to public safety and national security. The theory underscores the need for comprehensive cyber security measures that address both virtual and physical vulnerabilities. It emphasises the importance of collaboration between cyber security professionals, law enforcement agencies, and policymakers.

For instance, the closure of Omegle in 2023 due to child safety and inappropriate content concerns highlights the relevance of this theory in understanding cyber crimes. This theory posits that individuals exhibit different behaviours as they transition between physical and virtual spaces. The criminal behaviour in cyber space can spill over into physical space, and vice versa.

Lessons from the Omegle case

Omegle’s platform, known for its anonymous video chat feature connecting strangers, provided users with a sense of anonymity and impunity. This enabled inappropriate behaviour without any fear of consequences. This anonymity facilitated a breeding ground for cyber crimes, including the exploitation of minors and dissemination of explicit content. This could potentially transition into real-world harm. The closure of Omegle underlines the significance of STT in informing strategies to prevent and combat cyber crimes. 

By recognising the fluidity of criminal behaviour between physical and virtual spaces, researchers and law enforcement can develop more targeted interventions to address the underlying factors contributing to such crimes. Understanding how individuals navigate between these spaces and the implications of their behaviours can help mitigate risks associated with online platforms like Omegle. This would ultimately contribute to promoting a safer online environment for all users.

In summary, the interpretation of Space Transition Theory in 2024 underscores the dynamic nature of cyber crimes in modern digital environments, including Metaverse. It emphasises the fluidity of cyber criminal activities across different online spaces, the impact of emerging technologies on cyber threat landscapes, and the interconnectedness of cyber space with physical space. Understanding these dynamics is crucial for developing effective cyber security strategies and combating the evolving challenges posed by cyber crime in the digital age.

Conclusion

Crimes on the internet challenge the traditional notion of jurisdiction based on well-defined territories. At the same time, their ever-evolving nature directly overshadows any preventive measures taken by stakeholders. As a result, it becomes necessary to understand the underlying reasons why individuals commit crimes in cyber space. Other theories fall short of adequately explaining the cause behind cyber crimes. However, space transition theory provides the necessary direction to understand the behaviour of criminals in cyber space. While no theory is perfect, one cannot deny the immense contribution of this theory to the cyber criminology domain. As crimes evolve with time, we will continue to see further interpretations and empirical research to test the applicability of this theory to real-life situations.

One Comment on “A Beginner’s Guide to Space Transition Theory”

  1. This a very insightful article on the Cybercrime commission. Furthermore, I think the idea of how transitioning from physical space to cyberspace and vice versa offers anonymity which allows people to act as he wishes can further be supported also by Social Bond Theory in which one’s physical involvement, commitments and attachments may hinder him from commiting crime in the physical space, while in the cyberspace some if not totally all aspects of such is temporarily diminished since that the individual is not anymore representing his physical self with all the attachments he has but rather he is afforded with anonymity. I will surely cite this theory in my future researches. Thank you so much for this.

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