In order to delve into the topic area of cybercrime, it is important to understand what cybercrime is and including all its complexity, including how it operates. Initially, it is important to highlight that there is no official definition, in accordance to the law (Wall, 2001). Yet, there has been a few attempts by academics to try and define what cybercrime is. It can be said that cybercrime has emerged as a crime, due to the advancements that have been made in technology over the decades, such as the internet. In the modern day, there is huge dependence on the internet with some even describing it to be a “factor of life” (Yar, 2013: 3). The internet is widely used for different reasons and this new way of working has created new opportunities for criminal and deviant activities. Therefore, this dependence on technology such as computers and the internet has brought about new risks for all users (Bernik, 2014). It can be said that the increased use of the internet has provided a “crucial electronically generated environment in which cybercrime takes place” (Yar, 2013: 6).
In simpler terms cybercrime is a crime committed by using a computer or the internet (Anon, 2016). As simple as this seems, controversy has risen over the official definition and in accordance to the law; cybercrime has no official definition. It can be said that the term has mostly been created by the media in which it has been fantasied (Wall, 2001). The difficulty in defining cybercrime has risen due to the fact that cybercrime does not refer to just one type of criminal activity, but instead it refers to multiple types of illegal and deviant activities which are underpinned by the fact that they all take place within the cyberspace (Yar, 2013). However, as previously mentioned, in an attempt to define cybercrime by an academic it can be defined as “computer-mediated activities which are either illegal or considered illicit by certain parties and which can be conducted through global electronic networks” (Thomas and Loader, 2000: 3).
In terms of the emergence, is it known that the scale of the issue has been largely influenced by the internet and the continuous advancements in technology that have been made (Wasik, 1991). The ideology is that cybercrime evolved alongside the internet, simply because without the internet cybercrime would not exist (Yar, 2013). The internet is described as a network linking computers together which creates open opportunities for criminal activities to take as it allows users to send information from one place to another very easily (Wall, 2001). It is apparent that cybercrime did not just emerge ‘overnight’ so to speak, but it is recognised that the issue began when computers became easier to use and less expensive (Shinder, 2008). For example, in the 1980’s cybercrime was unheard of. This is due to the technology not being as advanced and available then, as they are today so the types of crimes committed today physically couldn’t be then (Shinder, 2008). Yet, with technology and knowledge on how to use the software continuously developing, cybercrime has become a predominant issue for today’s society. It has been recognised that more people than ever before are using and have access to technology (computers/the internet) now. Today, children are even taught how to use them in schools and those who cannot afford a computer have places that they can go to access them (Shinder, 2008); The internet can be seen as a necessity for today’s society. In addition, as technology has become easy to use; those once-complex tasks such as downloading files have now been simplified so almost everybody has the ability to use technology. Some of today’s cybercriminals are talented programmers (the hacker elite), but most are not (Shinder, 2008). Therefore, as it has become a normal function for people in society today to use the internet on a daily basis. This has enabled cybercrime to become a growing concern essentially leaving the possibility that anybody could be a victim of cybercrime.
Overall, when the internet gains new functions/uses such as online shopping; it goes hand-in-hand with cybercrime and it opens up more opportunities for people to violate the proper use of the internet to commit illegal activities for example credit card fraud (Shinder, 2008).
There are two main forms of cybercrime which are:
- Cyber-enabled crime – traditional crimes (fraud, sexual grooming and exploitation of children, theft, bullying, and harassment) are increased in scale/reach through the use of the internet (Bernik, 2014).
- Cyber-dependent crime – the offence can only be committed online, usually targeting computer networks e.g. hacking, malware (McGuire and Dowling, 2013).
Section 2: Discussion
The concept concerning cybercrime has been discussed through a number of different ways. One way it has been discussed is around the fact that it is an ambiguous term, which can make it difficult to pin down and apply it to any specific definition, which essentially can create a grey area in regards to the law. ‘Cybercrime’ is regarded as a social construct, which means that behaviours can be either regarded as criminal or not criminal, through the social understanding of these behaviours. For example, whether or not a behaviour/action is seen as criminal, it is usually not because the action is objectively or essentially ‘criminal’ (Yar, 2013). In fact, how that act is responded to, both socially and legally is a product of the social environment it takes place in and the social understanding recognised to that action/behaviour. When computers were first introduced, the term ‘hacking’ had a different meaning but now this behaviour perceived to be negative criminal behaviour (Wasik, 1991) which shows how the classifications of behaviour changes overtime. Therefore, this creates a challenge when trying to understand the topic of cybercrime.
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Another way that cybercrime is discussed is through the technical debate around whether cybercrime is a ‘new’ crime or an old crime evolving with society (Wall, 2007); in a new space (cyberspace). The issue in this debate causes issues for jurisdiction, when trying to punish those carrying out acts of cybercrime. Initially, due to the nature of the cybercrime and the fact that the activity is committed whilst using the internet/ computer, this has a feature of anonymity surrounding it, through features such as firewalls which makes it difficult to detect offenders; which makes it more difficult to punish, as opposed to traditional crimes. Also, when the offending actions are causing signals to travel through cyberspace, the electronic connection may cross international boundaries, which has created huge jurisdiction problems as it has become unclear and begs the questions of who should prosecute, where should the crime be prosecuted, and where did the offence occur. This whole issue around who is blameworthy has occurred due to the ‘vail of anonymity’ as anyone can access the internet, anywhere and anytime that they desire (Bernat and Godlove, 2012).
Moreover, due to how a computer/ the internet operates the crime committed does not physically exist in the terrestrial world, like traditional crimes which contradicts the old legislation. Instead, the ‘new’ crime exists within a virtual environment which we know as the cyberspace (Yar, 2013). Therefore, there are challenges created for the law and Criminal Justice System, as they are now forced to cater to these ‘new’ types of crimes so that the law can be adapted; in order to reach a successful conviction. However, as there is a lack of resources to keep up with scale and spread of cybercrimes the issue is a growing concern for society today (Thomas and Loader, 2000).
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Furthermore, one of the major concerns of cybercrime is those “online communications that entail the sexualized representation of minors, which consistently feature high on the list of cybercrime problems” (Yar, 2013: 114). This issue has gained a lot of legal, media and public attention and there is a large legal and social consensus around the need to forbid child pornography. Therefore, resources have been committed to tackling the issue. Having said that, there are huge jurisdiction and practical issues when attempting to enforce anti-child pornography laws. The internet and computers do not create the issue of child exploitation but it definitely intensifies the problem and helps the circulation of it from one device to another (Yar, 2013). The problem with the detection for those engaging in child pornography is worsened due to the issue of detection due features like firewalls and passwords (Wasik, 1991).
Section 3: Social divisions
There are many social divisions that are relevant to the issue of cybercrime. There are two forms of online crime that will be further discussed which includes ‘hate speech’ and forms of sexually offensive material (Yar, 2013). A form of online hate crime is ‘hate speech’ which targets individuals on the grounds of their “race, ethnic, religious, gender, sexual or other characteristics” (Yar, 2013: 96).
Ethnicity and race are examples of social divisions which can make an individual more likely to be a victim of cybercrime. Hate crime is an online example of cybercrime. Offenders of hate crime target users with offensive material regarding their race and ethnicity.
Another relevant social division in relation to cybercrime is age. When an individual is of a young age this allows them to be considered as vulnerable and therefore easily targeted and exploited. Child pornography which can also be known as child sexual abuse images, is an example of children being taken advantage of due to their age. The issue is a concern for society and the criminal justice system (Yar, 2013). Over the years online pornography in general has become more popular in the virtual world, yet to the distaste of many child pornography is also increasing, which results in children at higher risk of harm/ becoming a victim due to their vulnerability in accordance with their age. The internet is not the main cause of child pornography, but it definitely has a factor to play by allowing it to circulate widely (even across nations). In despite of this, there are some provisions in place such as in the UK the Protection of Children Act 1978, prohibits indecent images of children, to ban child pornography and protect the children. However, it is fair to say there is not enough restriction on the matter as factors such as the source of production, proves hard to detect due to the element of anonymity, involved in the virtual world and cyberspace.
Moreover, in relation to this social division of age it is important to highlight that the defendants are usually young males (which shows intersectionality), in accordance to the victim usually being young girls (Yar, 2013). Therefore, being a young male they are more likely to engage in some form of cybercrime and being a young female could mean that they are more likely to fall a victim of cybercrime. On the other hand, elderly people are also likely to fall a victim of cybercrime as they have less technical knowledge on the awareness on how to use the internet and computers successfully to protect privacy so they are more likely to become a victim of scams etc.(Wall, 2001).
Another social division that is relevant to the issue of cybercrime is sex/ gender. As briefly mentioned previously: offenders are most likely to be males (Yar, 2013) and victims are more likely to be female. It was stated by McGuire and Dowling (2013) that women were more likely to be a victim of cyberstalking. Moreover, the sex an individual identifies themselves as can cause them to be more or less likely to be a victim of cybercrime. For instance, those individuals identifying as part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community (LGBT) can find themselves more likely to be a victim of online hate crime (Meyer, 2010).
Section 4: Conclusion.
Overall, in conclusion cybercrime is a relevant issue today for modern society although it can be said that to some extent it is fantasized by the media (Wall, 2001). It actually is a current issue proving to be problematic for the criminal justice system. This is because there is a great need for control over the issue but due to the inability of law to keep up with the demand for up to date law, there is not always laws in place to cover these ‘new’ current crimes. This has also come as a result because as cybercrime rejects the norms of a traditional crime, as the activity is not committed physically it is instead committed through the virtual world by using internet; making use of the cyberspace, which comes with a whole range of issues for punishment. However, it is important to understand that although these crimes are committed in the ‘virtual world’, it is apparent that these crimes are real and affect real people in the physical world. For instance, those that fall a victim of credit card fraud are real people with real money. Those individuals who find themselves a victim of cybercrime can be affected mentally, physically and emotionally (which are all real issues). In despite of this there are some provisions and laws in place to tackle this issue, so there is some efforts to tackle the growing issue. Yet there are countries without proper supervision. Furthermore, the lack of definition is relevant as cybercrime has been left open for speculation and assumptions which can prove difficult for bringing about a prosecution; whilst allowing this area to be sensualised by the media. Finally, it is important to understand that there is still the steady debate ongoing regarding whether cybercrime is ‘new’ or just a traditional type of crime using ‘new tools’ (Yar, 2013) so therefore, in order to tackle this concerning issue the law bodies need to review the law and bring it up to date including an official definition which could largely resolve this contemporary issue.
- Anon, 2016. What is cybercrime? Progressive Digital Media Technology News, pp. Progressive Digital Media Technology News, May 19, 2016.
- Bernik, I., 2014. Cybercrime and cyberwarfare. 1st ed. London: Hoboken, New Jersey: ISTE: Wiley.
- McGuire, M. and Dowling, S. (2013) Cybercrime: A review of the evidence, London: Home Office. Available online: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/cyber-crime-a-review-of-the-evidence
- Meyer, D., 2010. Evaluating the Severity of Hate-motivated Violence: Intersectional Differences among LGBT Hate Crime Victims. Sociology, 44(5), pp.980–995.
- Shinder, D. L. & Cross, M., 2008. Scene of cybercrime. 2nd ed. Burlington: MA: Syngress publisher.
- Thomas, D. & Loader, B., 2000. Cybercrime: law enforcement, security and surveillance in the information age. 1st ed. London: Routledge.
- Wall, D. S., 2001. CRIME AND THE INTERNET. 1st ed. London: Routledge.
- Wall, D. S., 2007. CYBERCRIME. 1st ed. Cambridge: Polity Press.
- Wasik, M., 1991. CRIME AND THE COMPUTER. 1st ed. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Yar, M. (2013) Cybercrime and Society, 2nd Edition, London: Sage.
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