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As stated by (Wilson & Remenyi, 2018), cybercrime is “an illegal act which is perpetrated through the use of a computer, either on a standalone basis or in network with other computer systems.” Cybercrime has not always existed, and as technology began to advance and perforate our everyday lives, becoming a crutch of modern society, technology became a force not only to ease our everyday struggles, but also to be used as a stronghold for underground activities; technology and the internet became and continues to be the breeding ground for crime to go undetected and unknown. The term cybercrime was coined in 1982 by the cyberpunk author William Gibson who needed a term for his fictional works to describe the actions of his antagonists.
The term cybercrime has been contested since it was first used, with many different authors giving many different definitions of what does and does not constitute cybercrime. “The prevalence of cybercrimes, along with their definition and impact, continue to be controversial.” (Levi, 2001) Due to this difficulty in simply defining cybercrime, there are many follow on issues on the growth, development and policing of these crimes. Therefore, this essay will aim to answer the following questions; has cybercrime grown; how has cybercrime developed; and what are the difficulties in policing cybercrime?
As previously stated, there are immense difficulties in truly measuring cybercrime, as what one jurisdiction considers a criminal offence, another may not. However, across the board, it would appear that almost all authors can agree that there has been a perceived growth in cybercrime. “Arguably the fastest growing ‘new’ type of crime is online fraud, more commonly known as ‘cybercrime’” (Tcherni, et al., 2016). It is often argued that cybercrimes are ‘new’ crimes that have never been seen before, however, could the case be made that crimes which were previously carried out in person are simply moving into the online realm?
“The CSEW estimated that 5.8 million such offences were committed in 2015 – 16.” (Office for National Statistics, 2016). The 2015-2016 Crime Survey for England and Wales was the first of these published and official statistics to include an estimated number of computer misuse and fraud incidences. Therefore, simply due to a lack of statistics, it is impossible to draw from this the conclusion that cybercrime incidences have changed at all. From the creation of the CSEW in 1981, cybercrimes have continued to be committed year on year, and yet it is only in 2015 that the police services for England and Wales decided to gather official statistics. However, a growing number of headlines in the media sensationalise how prominent cybercrime is in our society. “Firms face a growing threat from ransomware, data breaches and weaknesses in the supply chain”. (The Guardian, 2018) Perhaps cybercrime is the greatest threat we face in the 21st Century, however until official statistics can back up these claims, it is unsubstantiated fearmongering. It is therefore clear that the growth of cybercrime is exceptionally difficult to measure as there exists very little for gathered statistics to be measured against.
In terms of the development of cybercrime, it is clear that there have been advancements in using technology for criminal aims. Cybercrime has been categorised by (McGuire & Holt, 2017) as being in four distinct categories – “computer assisted crimes – cases in which the computer is used in a supporting capacity, but the underlying crime or offence either predates the emergence of computers or could be committed without them; computer focused crimes – cases in which the category of crime has emerged as a direct result of computer technology and there is no direct parallel in other sectors; cyber-enabled crimes – traditional crimes that are increased in their scale or reach by the use of computers, computer networks or other ICT; cyber-dependant crimes – offences that can only be committed by using a computer, computer networks or other form of ICT”
Computer assisted crimes, cyber-enabled crimes and cyber-dependant crimes are those which can most greatly control the accuracy of the reporting of crime statistics around cybercrime due to the fact that the crime existed before the creation of technology, for example, theft, but is now simply being committed in a new and previously unknown way. This can influence crime statistics as it may give the opinion that a crime such as theft is reducing, however in reality, it is merely moving online. The only outlier to this changing of figures through technology is computer focused crimes as these were crimes that previously did not exist but are now prominent, such as email fraud, cyberstalking and revenge porn.
However, it is not simply enough to state that because more crimes are being committed online, that cybercrime has developed tenfold. “The myriad of criminal and sub-criminal acts that come under the umbrella term cybercrime means that their incidence remains deeply embedded within a dark figure.” (Williams, 2006) The dark figure of crime is a popular term used by many criminologists “to illustrate the number of committed crimes that are never reported or are never discovered, and this puts into doubt the effectiveness and efficiency of the official crimes data.” (LawTeacher, 2013). Due to the presence of this dark figure, the true crime statistics may never be revealed for a number of reasons. Crime statistics are generally gathered through the CSEW (Crime Survey of England and Wales), which involves knocking on doors and speaking to people face to face in order to ascertain whether they have been a victim of crime, and what crimes they are. However, not everyone will be honest and cooperative in this situation. There are numerous reasons for attrition of crimes, such as that the victim is scared and doesn’t want police to get involved; particularly prominent in cases of cyberstalking and revenge porn; that the victim themselves has taken part in criminal behaviour and does not want to be punished for this; or a general mistrust of authorities and how well they will handle the case. There has been a rise in the mistrust of authorities in particular after ‘clear up rates’ hit the headlines. “BBC analysis of Home Office data for Panorama shows 527,000 charges were brought in 2016-17 – a fall of 65,000 on 2014-15. Meanwhile, the number of crimes recorded rose by nearly 750,000.” (BBC, 2018). It would therefore not be completely outlandish to stipulate that while people become more distrustful of police and their investigations, the number of people reporting crimes to the authorities is only a fraction of the true number of all crimes being committed on a daily basis.
It is often said of police forces that in the eyes of their people, they “aren’t doing enough”. In cases of cybercrimes, police work can be exceptionally difficult, due in part to underfunded cybercrime task forces, the rapid development of technology, and attrition of many cybercrimes. Many people refuse to report cybercrime as they find it embarrassing, or do not class it as a crime that will be taken seriously by police. This therefore leaves the policing of cybercrime in a vast ocean with no paddle – under-resourced, underfunded, and kept in the dark in terms of the immense number of crimes that take place. “In practice, much responsibility for policing the internet lies with users and with internet service providers – just as the bulk of ‘policing’ of other parts of our social world is undertaken by individuals, families, community groups and others.” (Newburn, 2017) This means that the reality of the situation is that people cannot expect police to effectively counter crimes for which they are unaware of. The burden clearly then lies in the hands of the every man, and the support system around them. The difficulty therein lies that the average member of the public does not have the tools or resources necessary to not only identify cybercrime, but to apprehend and punish the perpetrators of these crimes. “A 2009–2010 British Crime Survey by the Home Office reported that only 46% of people residing in the UK have confidence in the police.” (Rotenberg, 2018). Without trust in the police, why would anyone ask them for help, especially when there are those who feel that they would do a better job, or simply don’t want to involve the vast amounts of bureaucracy and red tape that come with police involvement?
In conclusion, it is therefore clear to see that the key features around the growth, development and policing of cybercrime in the 21st century is not an easy mission to attempt. There are a great variety of complex and challenging problems that have yet to be successfully overcome, such as the difficulty in obtaining true to life crime statistics, the various types of cybercrime, how we try to control and police cybercrime, even defining the term ‘cybercrime’ is a highly debated topic. Therefore, it may be fair to say that as cybercrime develops, so too does our understanding, our awareness and our ability to face these new and ever evolving problems as they arise.
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