Computer Crime In todays society our most valuable commodity is not grain, steel or even technology; it is information. Because of computer networks, just about everyone can now access an astounding range of information. The Internet is international, even though 80 percent of the Internet use occurs in the United States, and a staggering amount of information on every subject imaginable is available for free. Because so many people now have access, computer crimes have become more frequent. Everyone with a computer and a modem can commit a computer crime if so inclined.
Anyone, conceivably, could become a “white collar” computer criminal. When the term “white collar” crime came into wide spread use several decades ago, it was thought that certain crimes were committed by persons whom no one would normally suspect of criminal behavior: professional, “white collar” workers. In the late 1990s, however, the term “white collar” is somewhat inaccurate. The playing field has been leveled by the widespread use of computers. Now “white collar crime” tends to mean simply”non violent crime” or “economic crime.” As technology becomes increasingly accessible to more and more people, it also becomes a potential tool for increasing numbers of criminals.
Most computer crimes do not involve violence but rather greed, pride, or play on some character weakness of the victim. They are based on dishonesty and not force. For these reasons, computer crimes are considered white collar. Just as the term “white collar crime” designates several kinds of crime, the term computer crime also designated several types of crime. It includes crimes that are committed with a computer, crimes that occur in cyber space, and crimes committed against a computer.
Some of the crimes are completely new; while others are older crimes that merely use the computer as a tool. The endless and constant growing variety of computer crimes makes it difficult to pass laws that adequately cover new computer crimes. Some crimes such as embezzlement, wire fraud, and forgery, are already covered under existing law. Others, such as cyber vandalism, cyber terrorism, and cyber espionage, are relatively new. For these newer crimes, the letter of the existing law sometimes does not allow prosecution of what clearly is criminal behavior. Employees and ex-employees of the victimized company commit most “white collar crimes”. Likewise about 75 to 80 percent of prosecuted computer crimes are committed by current or former employees.
There are many different kinds of computer crimes ranging from identity theft to sexual harassment to otherwise ordinary “white collar” crimes that happen to involve a computer. The most common form is online theft and fraud. Phreaks, crackers, and sometimes hackers illegally access and use voice mail, e-mail, and network access accounts-which constitute toll fraud or wire fraud. Long distance access codes are in great demand by the hackers, crackers, phone phreaks and street criminal. Some cyber-criminals obtain the codes by “shoulder surfing” or looking over the shoulder of unwary people in phone booths. One reason that this is a common is a common form of crime among hackers and phone phreaks is because they tend to run up enormous phone bills pursuing their hobbies for 10 12 hours a day. Others obtain the codes from “pirate” electronic bulletin boards, where they are posted in exchange for free software, credit card numbers or other information.
Software piracy is another growing and seemingly insurmountable problem. It is illegal under American Copyright Laws, but most software piracy actually takes place overseas. Federal copyright laws are often insufficient even to prosecute United States citizens, as illustrated by the now famous case of David La Macchia. La Macchia, a student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, distributed free software through a bulletin board service on a M.I.T computer. After a FBI probe La Macchia was indited on 1994 for conspiracy to committee fraud. The software he offered reportedly had a total value of over one million dollars, but La Macchia argued that he had not distributed the software for financial gain and therefore could not have violated the federal copyright laws.
The case was dismissed. One of the most freighting computer crimes is identity theft. This kind of fraud is much easier than it was once, because a wealth of personnel information is available online for free, and even more personal information is available for a small fee. Now that drivers license numbers are also stored on computers, which a re usually part of a larger network, a persons physical characteristics-eye color, height, and persons physical characteristics-are also available. Magnetic strips on credit cards and ATM cards require computers to read them and to keep records of the millions of transactions made ever day.
Like identity theft, some other computer crimes are not new, except that the perpetrator now uses computer to commit them. For example, money laundering has been committed for many decades. But a money laundered using a computer is able to carry out the crime much more quickly6 and efficiently, just as computers enable legitimate workers to for their jobs more quickly and efficiently. There are several forms of computer criminals; the term “hacker” describes a person extremely adept and clever at programming. The term later came to mean a person adept to “cracking” new systems undetected. Hackers are merely curious but can unintentionally cause considerable damage.
But the quest for information and learning-not revenge or maliciousness-is what drives most hackers to pursue their hobby so relentlessly. “Crackers”, on the other hand, are malicious hackers. They break into systems to vandalize, plant viruses and worms, delete files, or wreak some other kind of havoc. Embezzlement, fraud, or industrial espionage is just a few of the crackers possible objectives. Cyber espionage exists between countries as well as between companies, so it poses a danger to our national security.
There is no disputing that what crackers do is dangerous as well as illegal. Another form of computer crime is perpetrated by “phone phreaks.” Instead of accessing computer systems phreaks explore the cyber world through phone lines. Phreaks were among the earliest forms of hackers, operating as early as the 1970s.One incident caused by phreaks, involved the New York City Police Department. Phreaks broke into the NYPDs phone system and changed the taped message that greeted callers. The new message said, “officers are too busy eating doughnuts and drinking coffee to answer the phones.” It directed callers to dial 119 in an emergency.
The enormous range of computer crimes means that all of society should be concerned about computer security, regardless of our individual level of computer expertise. World financial systems rely heavily on computers, as do national defenses, private businesses, and increasingly, personal correspondence.” We are all users,” in the words of Buck Bloonbecker, whether or not we actually use computers, because we all rely on them. We must not view computer crime as an exotic activity. To do so would prevent us from seeing that it endangers each one of us.