Computer crime comes in many different forms and can cause serious amounts of damage. It has been around as long as the computer has and criminals are always finding new ways to beat the system. With the constant advancements in technology, it has become easier for criminals to hide information about their crime. Evidence is now handled and collected differently than it was in the past and requires a significant amount of careful forensic investigation.
What is computer crime?
Computer crime is illegal activity that is committed on the internet or through networks. The department of justice has three separate categories in which computer crime can be labeled. The first category is attacking computers of others, such as spreading a virus. The second category is using the computer to commit a crime which could also be committed the physical world, such as fraud or illegal gambling. The third and last category is using the computer to store stolen or illegal information (Citizenship.org).
There are several different types of computer crime committed in the world today. Of those include: fraud, identity theft, phishing scams, malware, viruses, cyber stalking, and child pornography. Computer crime has been around for nearly two centuries, with the first ever recorded occurring in the year 1820 (hubpages.com). With the continual advancements in technology, it has been made easier for criminals to hide information about their crimes. Cyber crimes are handled differently than they have in the past because of this fact. When computers are attacked, it can completely alter the system and most times it will even cause damage. Also, computers that have been attacked have the capability to spread the attack to other systems within the same network (CERT.org).
Statistics on Computer crime
According to Minnesota’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) 2008 Internet Crime Report, a total of 3,578 complaints came in. There are several different categories that the complaints are separated into. To name a few of those categories, there is check fraud, hacking, credit card fraud, Nigerian letter fraud, and identity theft. Here are some statistics that were collected during the year 2008:
Non Delivery of Merchandise/Payment was the top complaint and accounted for 31.9% of all internet crime called in.
Auction fraud came in second accounting for 27.5% of all internet fraud
78.5% of all perpetrators were male
Within the country, California is the home to the largest percentage of perpetrators accounting for 15.8%
Of the world, the United States is home to 66.1% of all perpetrators
This is just a small percentage of the statistics I discovered when visiting the website of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (fbi.org). According to the IC3, the rate of computer crime continues to climb as the years pass by. The group has been collecting information and statistics on internet crime for the past three years in hopes to find trends among perpetrators and crimes committed in order to better solve the crimes of the future.
Hacking: What is it?
The term “hacking” has several different meanings and it means different things to different generations. In the 1950s and 1960s, computer programmers viewed hacking as “an intellectual exercise” and prefer to use the term “cracking” instead in order to separate themselves with the negative connotation that came along with being considered a hacker. The younger generation feels that hackers of today are doing the real work of exploration which was made necessary due to the prior generation selling out (Thomas). According to the dictionary, the official definition of hacker is “a computer enthusiast” and “a microcomputer user who attempts to gain unauthorized access to proprietary computer systems (dictionary.com). Hacking has its own meaning to different people. To some it’s a means of exploration and education; to others it’s more about playing childish, but costly, pranks on people and companies (Thomas).
Hackers of the 1960s and 1970s were found to be university graduate students with a profound interest in computers. Hacking grew to be quite popular in the labs of well respected colleges such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cornell, and Harvard. Students would play around with computers on their college campus and solve problems that eventually led to the creation of the personal computer. It was the birth of something that would lead to a new culture of innovative technological advances. Those who were able to hack were considered to be computer geniuses or nerds, rather than hackers (Thomas).
Hackers of today are commonly found to be in their teenage years. The reason for such age difference between the times is that fifty to sixty years ago, you could only find computers on college campuses whereas today, it is uncommon to find a household that does not own at least one computer. They are more readily available for young children not yet in college to dupe around with. Technology today is also very different than it used to be. There are now passwords and PIN numbers in order to protect the user from having any information stolen. Security is stronger now, which is good for the common users of online systems such as eBay, online banking, or any other accounts which are password protected. However, as Thomas clearly states, security today is a “double-edged sword”. Although people are more protected, it also protects the hackers from becoming easily identified (Thomas). Hackers are able to take advantage of this and often continue to hack into systems of major companies, or even your personal computer at home.
It seems that hacking was something more positive 60 years ago. It was used to discover new technology and helped to design and create more advanced machines and programs for people to use. It was something great that only those who were quite knowledgeable were capable of doing. However, with such great accomplishments, it has been made easier for the younger generation to turn the term “hacker” into something negative. Thomas describes these hackers as “new-school hackers” and soon a new hacking culture was born. Soon, hackers of the new generation began to use their knowledge against the world. They would meet to share what they have learned and would develop new ways to attack systems (Thomas). This new generation would turn hacking into crime that so many were willing to commit.
Ethical Evaluation of Hacking
From what it seems, hacking can be used to do both good and bad, which may make one wonder whether or not it can be viewed as ethical. I have always assumed that hacking was a bad thing and went along with its ever common negative connotation. I feel that people hack into systems to steal information from another party; whether it be a large corporation’s secret files, or your next door neighbor’s bank account. From what I’ve studied so far, hackers from the past acted on a more ethical basis than the hacker of today. They used their knowledge for the better and acted on good will to try and find new ways to improve the age of computers. In order to really dig into it, I studied the ethics of hacking using two different working ethical theories; Kantianism and the Social Contract Theory.
Hacking and Kantianism
Kantianism has a lot to do with good will and the desire to do the right thing. The reason for doing a certain act, in this case hacking, should cultivate the desire to what is right. There are two categorical imperatives correlated with this theory. The first states that if you act on moral rule, you must first see how it will affect the universal more laws. This means that before you commit an act, first think about what would happen if everyone were to commit this same act (Quinn). To put this into perspective, hackers basically break security barriers to obtain information which they are probably not allowed to see in the first place. If there is a rule that makes it okay for everyone to break security barriers, it would completely defeat the purpose of having a secure system set up in the first place. There would no longer be such a thing as unauthorized information. Everyone would be allowed to somehow break in to the system and read it. The company might as well just display this information freely, for the world to see. This would not be right as the information is protected for a reason. It is for certain people’s eyes, and their eyes only and is not for anyone else to see.
The second categorical imperative states that you should treat both yourself and other as ends in themselves and not as a means to an end. This basically states that it is unethical to use someone for your benefit (Quinn). When relating this to the act of hacking, it tells us that we need to respect others and their right to privacy. When a hacker breaks into a system, they are using other people’s information to their benefit. They are invading privacy to get what they want, which is personal information.
The first categorical imperative seems to correspond better with the topic, but both imperatives basically state the hacking is an unethical act. It is not right to disrespect people or to treat them unfairly, and when hacking occurs, that is exactly what happens. Therefore, according to the Kantianism, hacking is deemed to be unethical
Hacking and the Social Contract Theory
The social contract takes place in a civilized society and is based upon two things. The first thing is that there is an establishment of moral rules to govern relations among citizens. The second thing is that there must be a government capable of enforcing such rules. The social contract theory states, “Morality consists in the set of rules, governing how people are to treat one another; that rational people will agree to accept, for their mutual benefit, on the condition that others follow those rules as well.” This contract suggests that no man has authority over another and that no one lives above the law. The community is supposed to determine the rules for its members, and all who is part of that community must abide by such rules. In order for this theory to work, the laws must not only be stated, but enforced as well. This will prevent anyone from trying to cheat the system (Quinn).
If hacking were to ever be considered socially acceptable, it would almost defeat the purpose of having secure systems. People would have the right to invade other people’s privacy and basically steal what does not belong to them. This type of crime is not accepted in the physical world, so why should we choose to accept it in cyberspace? The answer to that is we should not. The social contract theory has much to do with respect for yourself and respect for others. It is not very respectful to be deceitful and steal information or items which do not belong to you. Therefore, according to the social contract theory, hacking is deemed to be unethical.
How Does the FBI control Cyber Crime?
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has a four-fold method that works to control and eliminate cyber crime. The first step in this process is to stop those behind the most serious computer invasions and the spread of malevolent code. Second, they must identify and put a stop to online sexual predators that use the internet to meet and exploit children and to produce, possess, or share child pornography. The third step is to counteract operations that target United States intellectual property, endangering our national security and competitiveness. Lastly, dismantle national and transnational organized criminal enterprises engaging in internet fraud (fbi.gov). Computer invasions are not taken lightly and it is very important that the FBI work to control such a crime. Here are some facts taken from the Federal Bureau of Investigation website on how serious these cyber crimes are taken:
A Cyber Division at FBI Headquarters “to address cyber crime in a coordinated and cohesive manner”
Specially trained cyber squads at FBI headquarters and in each of the 56 field offices, staffed with “agents and analysts who protect against investigate computer intrusions, theft of intellectual property and personal information, child pornography and exploitation, and online fraud”
New Cyber Action Teams that “travel around the world on a moment’s notice to assist in computer intrusion cases” and that “gather vital intelligence that helps us identify the cyber crimes that are most dangerous to our national security and to our economy;”
93 Computer Crimes Task Forces nationwide that “combine state-of-the-art technology and the resources of our federal, state, and local counterparts”;
A growing partnership with other federal agencies, including the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, and others-which share similar concerns and resolve in combating cyber crime.
There are different levels of cyber crime, but we can never be too careful when it comes to protecting our people and our national security. There are several different ways of course in which the FBI will take action and that all depends on the type of cyber crime that is being committed. For example if it is trying to catch an online predator, a sting operation will be created and a member of the FBI will pose as a young child in hopes that someone will fall in to the trap. The FBI is full of highly trained professionals that know what they are doing and work their hardest to catch anyone who is being unlawful.
How is Cyber Crime Different Than Physical Crime?
Crime that takes place on in cyberspace is quite similar to physical crime. It is a person using their knowledge to break into another someone else’s personal property. There are several laws against both types of crimes, and the penalties are just as harsh in the cyber crime world as they are in the physical. Also, both of them have the potential to cause a lot of harm and damage to others.
The difference between the two is the way that the victims, or potential victims, feel about such cyber and physical crime. In recent surveys, it states that more people believe that their chances of being victims of cyber crime are much higher than being victims of physical crime. Many people are scared to participate in online banking or to shop online in fear of someone intercepting and hacking into their accounts. Also, it has been found that people are very cautious when it comes to documents that contain personal information on them by completely destroying them or assuring that they are safely stored (crime-research.org). According to a survey conducted by IBM, more than half of the businesses located in the United States believe that cyber crime is more costly to them than physical crime. The ways in which it costs them are through lost revenue, loss of current and prospective customers, and loss of employee productivity (allaboutroimag.org).
Cyber crime and hacking have been around for many years to date. It is something that developed as soon as the computing machine did. There have always been computer geniuses out there to use their knowledge for good, along with bad. After doing a lot of research and in my ethical evaluations, I have concluded that hacking is an unethical act. What started out as something that seemed like a good thing, quickly turned bad as soon as the personal computer became widely available. People began to use their knowledge against others and today we are faced with more cyber crime than ever. It is important for us and our government to keep it under control as it can cause a lot of damage to anyone who becomes a victim.
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