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Computer Crimes

Crimes committed by using computers or computer networks as facilitators to the crime are referred to by many names that include; cyber-crime, and e-crime meaning electronic crime. The computer or network may be involved in the crime as the object, cause, device, or place from which the crime was committed. Due to its wide applicability, the crimes that involve the computer are varied and can be classed into two types; crimes that existed before the computer age but which use the computer only as a tool, and crimes that only came into being with the coming of the computer age. Old crimes in which the computer is involved only as a tool or object for the crime include the use computers to commit fraud, solicitation of sex through the computer, computer theft, and the use of computers for counterfeiting or forging documents (Standler, 2002). These crimes existed before the coming of the computer and have therefore only been made easier or more sophisticated.

The new crimes that came with the invention of the computer include; intrusions into and desecration of computer networks and programs, privacy violations like aggravation and stalking in cyberspace, the creation and subsequent release of malevolent computer programs, and stealing of usernames and passwords which help in getting into a victim’s computer. These crimes enable the violators to get access into other computers and they consequently steal, damage, and manipulate data (Mac-net.com, 2005). Malevolent computer programs are often referred to as malware and comprise of viruses, worms, and Trojan Horses. They are created so as to enable the creators to get illegal access to information, delete or damage data in the computers in which they are sent.

Viruses are small programs that self replicate and attach themselves onto executable files in a computer and only cause damage during the execution of the file. The original intended functions of the file are changed by the virus thus causing it to change its response to commands (Tech- FAQ, 2009). They may also alter or delete data from the computer on executing the file to which they are attached. Viruses may also be capable of sending copies through the use of an e-mailing program. They are mostly spread through e-mails as attachments and as downloads on the internet (Microsoft, 2007). They cause computer functions to change or transfer, damage or delete data.

Worms on the other hand are self replicating programs that cause clogging in computers due to their use of space. They can also clog networks by sending copies of themselves through it thus hindering legitimate data from being transferred by consuming the bandwidth. Unlike viruses, they do not have to be attached onto executable files to function and therefore spread without any activity on the part of the user. An example is the Melissa worm which spread through enticing e-mail messages in 1999 (Tech- FAQ, 2009).

Worms have however been used with good intentions in fixing of software vulnerabilities by exploiting them to get into the computer. An example is the Nachi family of worms that installed security updates on Windows 32 and tried to rid the computer of malicious programs that it detected. However, since the owner of the computer does not acknowledge their use and application on the computer they can be seen as illegal and therefore constitute a crime.

Trojan horses are programs that masquerade as useful while at the same time providing means for unauthorized entry into the computer. The Trojans are not self replicating and require the violator to operate them for them to transfer data. The Trojan can enable the violator to access information and manipulate it. It could also help them know the keys that are struck on a computer which is called keystroke logging thus getting access to sensitive information. They may also be used to facilitate download or upload of data including other harmful programs (Mac-net.com, 2005). The Trojans are therefore facilitators of computer crimes.

Viruses are known to slow down the speed with which computers work or to clog bandwidths with their activity. In January 23rd of 2003, the internet was slowed down significantly by the activity of a virus. The virus was scanning for vulnerable computers so randomly and aggressively that the internet bandwidths were overwhelmed. The virus attacked computers that used the database package SQL server developed by Microsoft. Since the company’s software is popular, the number of computers attacked was large enough to slow the internet. The virus caused outages and slowdowns in the internet in Asia, Europe, and the US (independent.co.uk, 2003). This illustrates the harm that can result from viruses and thus it is a crime to spread them for whatever reason.

The malicious spreading of malware is therefore criminal since they are harmful to the computers. They help the sender gain information that is confidential and therefore encroach on the privacy of the individual under attack. Information is acquired through the use of viruses can be used in accessing benefits or services that only the real user could have access to which is identity theft (Icove, Karl & William, 1995). Access to finances by using these false identities is also a serious crime since they are acquired at the expense of the victim and without their consent. The identity of businesses is also used fraudulently by cyber criminals to access services and other benefits and is called commercial identity theft. The risk for the businesses is misrepresentation and loss of funds to the perpetrators.

A survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers that was based on responses by more than 2,500 executives and other parties from 49 countries showed that viruses represent the single most threatening factor to computer and network security. Internet and network needs are putting companies at risk of attack by the viruses. The survey showed that more than 60% of companies worldwide were affected by viruses in that year while the number in the US was higher being about 70%. Security breaches, which were mostly attributed to hackers, increased from 14% in the previous year to 48% which shows that the number of computer crimes has increased significantly (InformationWeek online, 1999). The survey shows the seriousness of computer crime in the business and security sectors and therefore it should be prevented.

The main assumption made by electronics is that if you have the password then you are the owner of the information in it. The methods used to access the data that is used in accessing the devices include theft and attempts at cracking them. The easiest method is thus hacking since there is no personal risk for the perpetrator. Through the use of viruses they can access the data from a remote location which could also go undetected by the victim. There are cyber criminals who can even hide traces to the source of intrusions and thus making it hard for law enforcement authorities to deal with them (Icove, 1995).

It has been shown that at least 1 million of the 300 million users who accessed the internet in 2000 engaged in criminal activities. The threat to commerce on the web is therefore significant since these crimes included counterfeiting, fraud, sabotage, and the sale of stolen goods. In 2004 the cost of cyber crimes was estimated at about US$ 30 million while at the present it is estimated at about US$ 500 million.

This rapid rise in cyber crime is attributed to greater connectivity and universal use of the internet which enables cyber criminals to get access to greater numbers of victims. The realization that cyber crime is relatively safer and easier to carry out compared to others has also seen the increase of organized crime groups who are taking part in the activity. While some of the perpetrators of the crimes were outsiders, most of them were workers within the organizations especially those who had been laid off and who had active accounts in the organizations. Through this pathway they got easy access to the content in the internet.

Phishing is an internet related computer crime that involves the attempt by criminals to acquire sensitive information from the victim by pretending to be respectable entities. The perpetrator sends information that purports to come from social websites, processors that can be used for payments online, and administrators from respectable institutions. The information is sent through instant messaging and e-mails and asks the user to send sensitive information about themselves. However, the websites to which they enter the information are not the real ones and their look may be highly deceptive.

Authenticating the validity of these sites even while using security measures like server verifiers can be very hard due to their sophistication. It is an example of social engineering in where the user is tricked into revealing sensitive information (Icove, Karl & William, 1995). According to the security monitoring firm Cyveillance, phishing in 2008 cost about $3 billion by those who fell for the fraudulent websites (Walsh, 2008).

Those most affected included deceptive charges on credit cards, calls for customer support, and withdrawal from accounts that had been hacked into after the owners had unwittingly given out sensitive information. The phishing also costs firms since potential customers who have been defrauded using their websites are unlikely to go back to the site. They therefore cause the loss of a brand’s reputation which cannot be quantified. It was estimated that 2,500 recipients for every 500,000 phishing mail sent fell for them and cost about US$ 1,800 per respondent with more funds-about US$ 400- being dedicated to the clean up work and thus amounting to about $22,000 per case (Walsh, 2008). Thus the phishers get away with a lot of money and ruin reputations and should therefore be dealt with seriously to avoid losses for unsuspecting victims.

Stalking is the activity that involves the violation of the individual’s privacy and the pursuit of an individual and the pursuit of another’s unwanted attention. This involves following the other individual in stealth or loitering near another person while seeking to annoy and harass the person. These activities cause reasonable people to fear which is the primary aim of the stalker. Modes of communication have been impacted upon by the internet which has created new avenues for stalkers. The internet can be used relatively safely by the stalker since physical presence is not required (Larsen, 2006). This is because the perpetrator uses methods like sending of anonymous messages and images and accesses information from WebPages, websites, and instant chat relays that preserve their anonymity.

With their affordability and accessibility, computers have come to be used widely and thus evolved the methods used by criminals. Stalkers can use the internet to get access to profiles of people and thus choose one that they like or respond to. Though the victim of the crime is not harmed physically, the psychological effect the stalking may have serious effects on them. This is in view of the fact that their threats are processed the same as those by a material person. However, there have been cases in which the stalker did come out physically and assaulted their victims. The stalker uses methods such as accusations that are usually false, harassing the victim, victimization, and the use of the victim’s name that are generally disapproved of in society like subscription for pornographic material.

In 1999 a report on cyber stalking from the U.S. Justice Department showed that 1 in every 12 women in the US were being stalked which amounted to about 8.2 million women. Due to the demand for anonymity required of the stalker, the cyber criminals were shown to be better educated than any others type of criminals and that they sought the internet due to the anonymity afforded by it (U.S. Justice Department, 1999). Through the use of anonymous identity tools like Anonymiser and pseudonyms the perpetrators can hide their identity and the electronic information that would link them to the information that they send (Lloyd-Rogers, 1997).

Another cyber crime is cyberterrorism which is the attack by terrorist organizations that seek to disrupt sources of information in the hope that they will create panic and alarm. The term may include threats made against computers or networks. The terrorists seek to destroy, alter, and acquire and transmit data in order to create panic and crash systems they do not like. An example is the threat made by a white supremacist group in 1996. The group threatened that people were yet to see true electronic terrorism. The ISP was later temporarily disabled by the group and part of the record keeping system was damaged by (Standler, 2002).

Viruses that seek to destroy the running of organizations or the disruption of societal order are a type of cyber terrorism. An example is the ILOVEYOU virus that infected banks, security organizations, and websites in 2000. The virus caused extensive damage especially to web pages that had pictorial data. The virus disrupted the data by overwriting the files that had “jpg” extensions and MP3 music data. The virus could steal passwords from networks and send them to remote locations and thus could result in hackings into systems days or months after the initial attack. It caused millions in damage for Yahoo, CNN, eBay and other websites. This was through the denial of service method (DoS) in which the virus clogs the bandwidths with useless data like messages thus crashing systems while at the same time denying legitimate users the services they seek. The virus shook the confidence of businesses in the electronic commerce (Kleinbard & Richtmyer, 2000).

Some governments and political organizations are also thought to engage in the act of cyber terrorism in an effort to sabotage other countries’ economies and systems. In 1998, protestors in Spain sent a barrage of messages to the Institute for Global Communications (IGC). This caused the e-mailing services of the institute to freeze and genuine users could not get access to services. The group wanted the institute to stop hosting the Euskal Herria Journal website since the publication supported Basque independence. They threatened to employ the same tactics against the organizations using the IGC’s services. Therefore terrorist activities can be used by political groups that seek to pressurize others into meeting their demands (Denning, 2000).

Another crime in the cyber world is the use of information to gain advantages over one’s rival(s). The main culprits in this warfare are nations and organizations that have rivalry or are competing against each other. By sending disinformation that is harmful to their enemy’s image, they seek to sway the masses in their favor and hopefully continue their activities without opposition. Propaganda that demoralizes their rivals is used to undermine the quality and respectability of the rivals that putting themselves at an advantageous position i.e. in the public’s favor (Larsen, 2006). The use of the internet in the dissemination of this information is considered safe since the opposing groups can hide behind other outfits that would look credible as opposed to all out information dissemination. The internet has great potential for changing perceptions due to its wide audience and global reach. It is therefore a force to reckon with when it comes to information dissemination and may therefore be used destructively or constructively.

The internet has brought with it major positive changes in the way life is lived due to its informing nature. With information being accessible to anyone with a connection and the falling prices of computers, it is becoming increasingly easier to get connected. The internet has however come with evils that are strongly linked to it. With this information age revolution the use of the internet is becoming compulsory for most organizations and therefore the crimes affecting computers should be addressed to support a stable prosperous future.

References

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Denning, D. E. (August 24, 2000). Global Dialogue, Autumn, 2000 “Cyberterrorism”(3rd ed).  West Publishing Co ,U.S.

Kleinbard, David & Richard Richtmyer (May 5, 2000). U.S. catches ‘Love’ virus: Quickly spreading virus disables multimedia files, spawns copycats. Cable News Network Retrieved July 2, 2009, from,

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US Department of Justice (August, 1999). Cyber stalking: A New Challenge for Law Enforcement and Industry . Last updated February 7, 2003 on usdoj-crm/mis/krr. Retrieved July 2, 2009, from,

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Walsh, Sue (December 25, 2008). Phishing Costs Rising Steadily. AllSpammedUp.com. Retrieved July 2, 2009, from,

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