Cyber or computer crime refers illegal acts in which a computer or computer network is a: target of the act, a facilitator of the act, or platform on which the act occurs. Regardless of the category, computer crimes as a whole is one of the fastest growing areas of criminality. Moreover, as the world moves increasing online, computer crimes are likely to become one of law enforcement’s primary challenges. Law enforcement must take steps now to understand the threat that computer crimes pose. A better understanding will allow police to make the necessary preparations so that in the near future is will have the knowledge and skills to adequately confront computer crime on its terms. Accordingly, this presentation will introduce some of the most common and damaging computer that have occurred over the past five years.
II. Unauthorized Access Crimes
Unauthorized access crimes refer to crimes where the perpetrator intentionally gains access to or use of a computer or computer network without the permission of the owner, or in violation of the terms of permission that a user has, and obtains information from within the targeted computer or network. In the context of computer crime laws, “obtain information” can be as simple as the “mere observation of the data” (Kerr, 2009). While most states have their own unauthorized access laws, almost all are based on the federal definition for the crimes as stated in the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). Perhaps the most commonly known and encountered type of unauthorized access crimes is hacking. Under the CFAA “hacking” a computer of network involves “breaking into” a computer, or otherwise circumventing its security measures, through various means and then accessing any or all of the files stored within (Kerr, 2009). A data breach occurred when the hacker is able to access files are confidential, such as bank and credit card numbers and password, trade secrets, or other personally identifiable information of the hacked organizations staff, customers or clients. Unauthorized access crimes, such as hacking, are the computer crimes that tend to generate the most media and public attention. The reason for this is that they generally result in the most damage and embarrassment, as well as reach the most victims. For instance, in 2014, hackers gained unauthorized access to the computer network of Sony Pictures Entertainment. The hackers first copied an unknown amount of internal company information, then completely erased everything nearly half of company’s computer’s and data servers (Elkind, 2015). Some of the information the hackers gained access to where the social security numbers of most of the company’s employees, scripts for upcoming movies, and confidential e-mails.
Cyberbullying refers to the use of a computer or computer network to: (1) threaten another person with injury or harm to their person or property, or (2) harass, annoy, humiliate, or embarrass (Black and Hawk, 2011). Cyberbullying is generally also thought to include the related crime of cyberstalking, which refers to the use of a computer or computer network to repeatedly, threaten, intimidate or torment another person (Black and Hawk, 2011). Cyberbullying in one form or another is illegal in every state. Most of these state laws have been made part of tradition anti-bullying or anti-stalking laws through the attachment of provision that outlaw the use of computers or electronic communication devices to carry out the illegal acts. Recently, cyberbullying among children and teenagers has become an area of concern especially with the increasing popularity of smartphones and social media networks by children and teenagers as one of their primary means of communication between themselves. Just as with traditional bullying, a typical act of cyberbullying occurs when the perpetrator communicates a threat, mean or harassing comment directly to the victim via a computer or smartphone. Cyberbullying can also occur by posting a mean or threatening comment on another’s social media account. There are a number of important differences between traditional bullying and cyberbullying. First, since one can access the Internet anywhere, a cyberbully has the ability to contact the victim in places that traditional would be cyberbully safe such as one’s home. Second, on social media platforms, a cyberbully has the ability to attract other to participate in their attacks without their knowing such as through “liking” a post. Lastly, cyberbullies can used the Internet to hide their identity.
IV. Cyber-Extortion and Ransomware
One of the newest but growing forms of computer crime is cyber-exploitation. As the name suggests, cyber-exertion refers to the circumstance were a perpetrator gains access to a computer or computer network and blocks the true owner from accessing the targeted computer or computer network unless the victims agrees to the perpetrator’s demands, which generally are for the payment of money. For instance, a perpetrator my initiate a denial of service (DoS) attack, where a victim’s computer or network is inundated by so many requests for information by other computers that it is unable to function properly. The perpetrator then notifies the victim so say that the DoS attacks will stop if certain demands are met. Over the last two years, however, a more sinister form of cyber-extortion, known as ransomware, has become popular among cybercriminals. In a typical ransomware case, perpetrators first gain access to a victim’s confidential information or information that is necessary to their work. After gaining access, the perpetrators will then encrypt the information or change the passwords that provide access to the information. Lastly, the perpetrators offer to decrypt or otherwise provide access to the information if the victim is willing to pay or accept the perpetrator’s demands.
V. Intellectual Property Theft
Intellectual property theft refers to the intentional and unauthorized use of protected (under a valid copyright, patent or trademark) works or content of another (Kerr, 2009; Black & Hawk, 2011). While intellectual property theft has existed since the earliest days of the nation, it was only after that discovery of the Internet and its popularity not only as a means for the dissemination of movies, music, books, and software but also as a vital form of internal and external communications for business and government, that intellectual property theft has really grown as a criminal challenge. This is due to the fact that the digitization of information has made it extremely easy to make almost perfect copies of content and disseminate it over the Internet to millions of people at once. Moreover, the Internet’s anonymity and global scale allows perpetrators to resist detection. To be sure, it is almost the perfect computer crime. Since intellectual property crimes are not new, criminal behavior is regulated by state and federal copyright and patent protection laws that have been amended to cover theft by and through a computer or a computer network.
Black, G.P. & Hawk, K.R. (2011). Computer and Internet crimes. Paper presented at The Federal Public Defender “Winning Strategies” Conference, San Antonio, TX, 10-12 February.
Elkind, P. (2015). Hack of the century. Retrieved from http://www.fortune.com/sony-hack-part-1/
Kerr, Orin S. (2009). Computer Crime Law, 2nd ed. St. Paul, MN: West.