Cybercrime Research Essays

Computer crime essay sample: 

With the dramatic development in the technology of computers and communications, the world has certainly benefited a lot, but the price might also be very expensive. Computer crimes are now becoming very serious problems that are costing up to billions of dollars. The US, where the computer was invented and where the Internet was developed, is considered to be the motherland of the worst computer crimes so far. Other countries are also contracting this problem as their governments, businesses and individuals become more dependent on computers and networks. Computer crimes are threatening the future of communication, confidentiality and even the integrity of businesses and organizations.

When people think of computer crimes, many are inclined to think of computer theft, that is, when a person carries a computer, a notebook or a laptop that does not belong to him and goes away with it. This is actually true, because the theft of hardware and computers is still considered to be common in many countries, especially the theft of portable computers that are very light, small and easy to carry. However, computer crimes are in fact much more complicated and dangerous than just stealing a computer.

The world today is becoming a smaller and at the same time, connected village, mainly because of the Internet. Thousands of companies, organizations and agencies, in addition to millions of people all over the world are able to contact each other and to communicate through the computer and the Internet. It is through the phone and the computer that some of the worst crimes are taking place. By definition, a computer crime takes place when an unauthorized person reaches information and data that he was not supposed to reach, or when an individual inflicts damage on the files, systems and networks of others on purpose. These crimes are now becoming serious felonies that lead to imprisonment and heavy fines in countries such as the US, where the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) is the agency responsible for handling such cases.

In 1997, more than 75% of all American companies reported that they had been victims of computer crimes. The cost of these crimes were an average of about $400,000 per company. The most common crimes were hardware theft, computer viruses and unauthorized access to data and information. Those who steal hardware are conventionally known as thieves, whereas those who criminally use viruses or try to break into networks and systems are known as computer hackers.

Theft of hardware, although very common, is not a very serious problem. A computer that is stolen, or a printer that disappears can always be replaced. The cost is always known, and the consequences can be made up for. However, in the case of a computer crime that involves breaking into the data system of the company, the results are usually out of control. It is not possible to find out the size of damage done to a company whose files have been stolen until a very long time to pass, especially that the company might not be aware of the crime at the time it happens.

Computer hackers: 

Computer hackers commit their crimes in a variety of ways. One common way is installing a virus program inside a network of a certain company. This virus program then starts recording all kinds of passwords used in the system, and passes them to the hackers. Later on, the hacker breaks into the security systems of the company and reaches access to any information that might be hidden away by the company on its computers.

Another way is to install computer viruses on the company’s network. These virus programs may be programmed to start working at a specific time or when a specific application is run, or when a specific file is opened. When the virus activates, it might do the kind of damage that it was designed for. For example, it might delete some or all kinds of files on the computer. It might make the applications run in a distorted way, or it might simply destroy the whole system, making the computer impossible to operate. In either case, valuable information is lost, as well as valuable applications that require a lot of money and time to repair.

Files visited by hackers may contain sensitive information about clients, allies, and competitors, and their fall in the wrong hands can be disastrous for the victim company. A victim company might lose its customers to its competitors and might even lose major projects if such information leaks out to unauthorized parties. The dollar measurement of such damage is not always possible, but it is usually very huge.

It was traditionally believed that only large companies and organizations represented attractive targets for hackers, especially that the information that they would get out of there might be valuable and worthy. However, recent developments show that no one is safe when it comes to computer crimes, not even simple individuals in their homes are simply working on their computers for personal use.

Furthermore, computer crimes are now committed on a mass level. For example, a virus might be sent through e-mail to thousands if not millions of individuals, groups, organizations, governments and agencies at the same time. This is known as spamming, a term that is very closely related to junk mail, where computer criminals can reach e-mail addresses of users and then start to mail unwanted material and advertisements to these addresses. This too is considered to be a federal computer crime because it involves an assault on privacy.

To make the situation worse, computer specialists claim that there is no magic solution. The possibility of computer crime is always there, and the only way to reduce its occurrence is through awareness of users. Awareness is, however, the first step, and alone, it can do nothing. Potential victims, especially companies and organizations that have valuable and sensitive data on their computers have to resort to managerial and technological strategies in order to deal with computer crimes.

Technologically, there are a few methods to face computer crimes. One method is to use security systems, but these are very expensive. An effective security system can cost up to $20,000 and still, the possibility that this system might be broken through remains large. As a matter of fact, the use of security systems such as firewalls may also be difficult and ineffective. Firewalls are special security programs that stand between the computer databases and the Internet to prevent unauthorized external users from reaching information. However, these firewalls may not work if the user does not make sure that all the components of the security system are activated. Users often underestimate the danger and do not attend to such time-consuming tasks, which makes firewalls ineffective.

In addition to this, anti-virus programs that hunt viruses and prevent them from entering the system may not always be effective. Everyday, new virus programs are created, which means that the company has to update its anti-virus systems almost weekly or monthly. Besides, there are very dangerous viruses which may not have anti-virus programs to stop them. This makes security through technology another serious issue.

Since viruses do not only come from the Internet but also from infected floppy disks and programs, it is necessary to scan every program, disk or application that comes from outside. Many viruses are inserted into systems by mistake because a user was not aware that there was a virus on the disk, program or application. Scanning is therefore necessary, although scanning programs may not be acquainted with all kinds of viruses.

The human factor in fighting computer crime remains crucial. It has been found out that most computer hackers were able to commit their crimes because of information they received on the phone from employees inside companies who were not aware that the information they were giving could be used for hacking purposes. Therefore, training employees how to handle phone calls is a very important defense mechanism against computer crimes.

Another problem is that there are employees who leave their companies and the turn in sensitive information about the systems of the company to interested hackers. To face this problem, companies should continuously change their passwords whenever old employees quit their jobs. Furthermore, companies should always check on those employees who may be a source of suspect, especially employees who have access to systems, or who come first thing in the morning and leave last in the evening or at night.

In addition to this, individuals, companies or agencies who use credit cards on the Internet for shopping or commercial purposes should make sure that the other party receiving the payment on the Internet is trustworthy. Several shopping sites on the Internet such as Excite have already set up security shopping zones to prevent hackers from getting the passwords to credit cards of shoppers. Individuals are also advised to have special cards with limited accounts for Internet purposes because it is impossible to guarantee that the password will not fall in the wrong hands.

It is impossible to be safe from computer crimes, especially when using the Internet, modem or even when having many employees who have access to databases. Prevention is always important, but the possibility that an individual, company, agency or organization might at any time fall a victim to computer crimes is always there. Technological and managerial solutions should be used, although they may not be sufficient. Federal laws protecting victims from computer crimes are still under development, but until then, every user logging into the Internet or saving important data on computers has to be very careful in protecting this data. Computer crimes may not appear as dangerous as homicide, but they are certainly very costly, and sometimes their influence might be disastrous for thousands of people working in a company or organization, not to mention governments.

Cybercrime is a criminal act using a computer that occurs over the Internet. The Internet has become the source for multiple types of crime and different ways to perform these crimes. The types of cybercrime may be loosely grouped into three categories of cybercrimes. First, the Internet allows for the creation and maintenance of cybercrime markets. Second, the Internet provides a venue for fraudulent behavior (i.e., cyberfraud). Third, the Internet has become a place for the development of cybercriminal communities.


I. Introduction

Computer crime has been an issue in criminal justice and criminology since the 1970s. In this venue, the types of computer crimes have been categorized in two ways. First, a prevalent activity is that of criminals stealing computers. Second, criminals use computers to commit crimes. The recent development of the Internet has created a substantial increase in criminals using computers to commit crimes. Thus, an emerging area of criminal behavior is cybercrime.

Cybercrime is a criminal act using a computer that occurs over the Internet. The Internet has become the source for multiple types of crime and different ways to perform these crimes. The types of cybercrime may be loosely grouped into three categories of cybercrimes. First, the Internet allows for the creation and maintenance of cybercrime markets. Second, the Internet provides a venue for fraudulent behavior (i.e., cyberfraud). Third, the Internet has become a place for the development of cybercriminal communities. The purpose of this research paper is to outline and exemplify these different forms of communities. The research paper then shifts into a discussion of policy steps to reduce some forms of cybercrime.

II. Cybercrime Markets

The Internet allows for illicit markets to be created and maintained. The Internet provides its users with an opportunity to hide their identities and to be in remote locations to create and be part of illicit markets. For instance, cybercriminals can use different Web sites to trade (i.e., buy or sell) merchandise illegally through legitimate sources (e.g., eBay) or through illegal sites. Some of theseWeb sites are not able to be traced back to their original sources. While a host of illicit markets exists (e.g., illegal adoptions, surrogate mothers, egg donors, obtaining banned substances, organ donors thieves, forbidden animals, endangered species, and illegal gambling), four markets will be discussed here.

One of the most pervasive forms of cybercrime is digital piracy (Gopal, Sanders, Bhattacharjee, Agrawal, & Wagner, 2004). Digital piracy is defined as the illegal act of copying digital goods, software, digital documents, digital audio (including music and voice), and digital video for any reason without explicit permission from and compensation to the copyright holder (Gopal et al., 2004; Higgins, Fell, &Wilson, 2006). The Internet has facilitated an increase in digital piracy in recent years. Wall (2005) notes four characteristics of the Internet that have enabled individuals to easily commit criminal activity: It allows anonymous communication, it is transnational, it has created a shift in thinking from the ownership of physical property to the ownership of ideas, and it is relatively easy. In addition, Wall contends that the Internet facilitates piracy because it allows the offense to take place detached from the copyright holder, which provides the offender with the perception that the act is victimless.

Several researchers have acknowledged subforms of digital piracy (i.e., audio and video piracy) as being increasingly pervasive (Gopal et al., 2004; Hinduja, 2003). Higgins et al. (2006) defined audio and video piracy as the “illegal act of uploading or downloading digital sound or video without explicit permission from and compensation to the copyright holder” (p. 4). Technological advancements are partly responsible for the increased ease and accessibility of digital piracy. The International Federation of Phonographic Industries (IFPI) (2006) estimates that one in three music discs purchased around the world is an illegal copy. The IFPI further estimates that 37% of all CDs purchased in 2005 were pirated, resulting in 1.2 billion illegal copies purchased worldwide. In fact, the IFPI concludes that pirate CD sales outnumbered legitimate CD sales in 30 markets across the world and resulted in a loss of $4.5 billion from the music industry.

Similar issues take place in the context of the movie industry. To be clear, industry figures indicate that the costs of unauthorized copying and redistribution of movies via physical media (e.g., video cassettes, DVDs, VCDs, etc.) exceed several billion dollars annually. In 2005, the Motion Picture Association of American (MPAA) reported that over 90% of the movies that are initially pirated are due to the use of camcording in movie theaters. The Internet has allowed movie pirates to be able to illegally download movies (MPAA, 2004). In 2004, the MPAA reported that $2.3 billion were lost due to Internet piracy.

Several researchers have argued that college students are likely to pirate almost all forms of digital media (Hinduja, 2003; Higgins et al., 2006). This includes software piracy. According to the Business Software Alliance (BSA, 2007), the trend of piracy among college students has been going up slightly compared to 2003 and 2005 rates. Importantly, two thirds of the students surveyed still believe that it is okay to swap or illegally download software without paying for it (BSA, 2007).

Since the Copyright Act of 1976, digital piracy has been a criminal act (Higgins et al., 2006). Mass copyright violations of movies and music were made a felony offense in 1982 by the Piracy and Counterfeiting Amendments Act, which was amended to include the distribution of copyrighted materials over the Internet via the No Electronic Theft Act (Koen & Im, 1997). That is, when an individual proceeds to burn an extra copy of a music CD, download music from the Internet without paying, or use a peer-to-peer network to download music information, he or she is pirating music. This is especially true for digital music piracy that is committed through a multitude of modi operandi (e.g., CD burning, peer-to-peer networks, LAN file sharing, digital stream ripping, and mobile piracy [seehttp://www.IFPI.orgfor a discussion of these techniques]). The penalties for these acts may be civil (e.g., $10,000 per pirated copy) as well as criminal (e.g., possible jail sentences) (Koen & Im, 1997).

Cybercrime includes the promotion and the distribution of pornography. When done over the Internet, this is known as cyberpornography. While viewing pornography may not be criminal for those who are of age, the Internet does not discriminate based on age. That is, teenagers’ fantasies about nudity may easily be replaced by hardcore pornographic images of every conceivable sexual activity.

In the academic literature, some researchers have shown that access to and viewing of cyberpornography is a behavior that is increasing. Ybarra and Mitchell (2005) used data from kids and young adults to examine exposure to cyberpornography. They showed that individuals that sought out cyberpornography were likely to be male, 14 years old and older, and more depressed, whereas those younger than 14 were more likely to be exposed to pornography through traditional means—movies and magazines.

Others have shown that cyberpornography is not just for teenagers, making the behavior non–age specific. Stack, Wasserman, and Kern (2004) used the General Social Science Survey to examine who viewed pornography using the Internet and the reasons why. They showed that individuals that had weak religious ties, unhappy marriages, and past sexual deviance are more likely to view pornography via the Internet. Buzzell (2005) examined the factors that influence access to cyberpornography. The study showed that when employment status increases, technology does play a role in the access to cyberpornography.

The Internet allows cybercriminals to participate in underage liaisons. One form of this particular type of cybercrime is the online solicitation of children for sex. This is exploitation that involves an adult who engages in discussion with a child online and uses his or her manipulation skills to coerce the child to meet in person for sexual purposes. Importantly, the number of children that are approached on the Internet for these types of offenses is staggering. Finkelhor, Mitchell, and Wolak (2000) showed that 1 out of every 5 youths is solicited by someone online for sexual relations.

The anonymity of the Internet allows cybercriminals to disguise their postings, responses, and identities. This affords the cybercriminals the opportunity to disappear at a moment’s notice. In short, the Internet allows cybercrimes to be performed more easily and simply while making criminals’ detection, apprehension, and prosecution more difficult. Therefore, the Internet makes cybercrimes through illicit markets more difficult to examine.

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