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Computer Crime, Research Paper Example

Pages: 11

Words: 3081

Research Paper

Introduction

The invention of widespread digital media, what the average consumer calls “the computer” has brought with it a huge criminal network, computer crime. These crimes include phishing scams, Nigerian scams, and lottery scams. In addition, the computer is now being used for cyber bullying, the solicitation of sex with both adults and minors, and pornography. There has also been the malicious transfer of computer worms, viruses, and Trojan horses (Bossler, 2010). Many of these schemes originate in foreign countries where there are minimal enforcement procedures. They have also surfaced in metropolitan areas in the United States, England, Italy, and other European and Asian nations (Wilson, 2009). These crimes, usually perpetuated by adults have also shown up emanating from schools, especially college campuses (Wilson, 2009). Sometimes even children (minors) are involved, both as victims and perpetrators.

In the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Secret Service, and the Department of Homeland Security are federal agencies that have a specific interest in computer crime. Similar agencies exist in most Western-type nations. On a local level, regional police departments have become involved with computer crime, especially in the exploitation of minors. Sometimes computer crimes are intentional; other times they are identified as illegal schemes by law enforcement agencies although the perpetrator had no specific intent of breaking the law (Pontell, 2009). Law enforcement agencies note that the typical difference between computer crimes and crimes not involving the computer is the distance between the perpetrator and the victim (Shostack, 2008). In computer crimes, the perpetrator may be located in a different country from the victim, as in the case of Nigerian schemes. In non-computer related crimes, armed robbery or sexual exploitation, the perpetrator is usually at arm’s length to the victim. In computer crimes, it is especially difficult for the victim to identify the perpetrator. In one-on-one criminal activities, the victim can sometimes identify characteristics of the perpetrator or identify localities in which the crime took place.

Phishing Schemes

The term, phishing, is a term used to describe how individuals seek to gain access to other people’s personal information. Criminals typically copy the logos of legitimate businesses and then change the website address by a single letter. Notices are then sent to unsuspecting individuals telling them that somehow their accounts have been compromised. According to Warren (2007) the perpetrators of these illegal web sites ask victims for account numbers, passwords, social security numbers, and other identifying information “to correct the account.” Account holders who fall for this scheme give criminals access to their accounts, they take that information and use it to steal money or to open charge accounts and purchase merchandise without the knowledge of the person who gave away his personal information. People who resort to this criminal activity do not purchase products in their own name. They make their purchases in the name of the individual whose identity was stolen. The merchandise is sent to the criminal while the bill is sent to the victim. The problem faced by law enforcement is that the criminal is often not even in the same country as the victim.

Computer usage has created an aura of laziness among many citizens. Merchandise can be purchased, and bills can be paid, while one sits in front of his/her own computer. The computer has made interpersonal relationships a thing of the past. Honorable citizens who fall prey to phishing scams often do not take the initiative to go to the business and check out their own accounts. If a person thinks that his account is incorrect, contacting the business personally will often eliminate the productivity of phishing schemes.

Nigerian Scams

Although this activity first began in Nigeria, it has spread to other countries (Nhan, 2009). Innocent people receive letters from criminals misrepresenting themselves as foreign dignitaries. They tell the victim that they have somehow acquired a small fortune but that the rules of their own country prohibit them from removing the funds to some other locality. Innocent people are instructed to lay claim to these funds by telling officials they are somehow related to the holder of these sums. Since the money is theirs to begin with, the victim does not have to pay for the funds to be released. However, there are charges for the shipping and handling. The victim often pays from several hundred to several thousand dollars for the shipping and handling charges but receives nothing in return. The difficulty in catching the criminal is that he/.she may be in one country while the victim is in a different country.

Nigerian scams first began in Nigeria. In recent years, they have spread to several Asian countries and to a lesser degree to the United States (Savirimuthu, 2008). These scams have begun showing up on college campuses. Students, hoping to gain a few dollars to help them with school expenses, have began sending similar letters to people in closer locales (Pontell, 2009).

Illegal Lotteries

Approximately 50 years ago the Irish Sweepstake was a popular lottery. Lotteries were illegal in Great Britain and the United States, but the Irish Sweepstake was annually used to support Irish hospitals (Coleman, 2005). At that time, the Irish Sweepstake was supported by that government and the procedure was supervised by the local police. The difficulty was that numerous (illegal) tickets were sold in the United States and Great Britain. When found, customs officials destroyed the tickets—either before or after the funds were collected (Coleman, 2005).

Around the beginning of the nineties, the Irish Sweepstakes came to a close. However, by that time the computer era had arrived. Individuals, perhaps remembering the popularity of the Irish Sweepstakes, began advertising non-existent lotteries on foreign soil. Victims usually send huge amounts of money to these lotteries, usually receiving nothing in return. Once in a while they receive a letter in their email thanking them for playing, but naming a fictitious person won the prize.

Social Networking/Cyber Bullying

Within the last couple of decades, computers have led to online social networking. These web sites are often free or only charge only a small amount of money. They include, but are not limited to chat rooms, MySpace, and assorted Twitter accounts. Social net workers can post their pictures, their hobbies, their skills, and the names of both their friends and enemies. Members of social networks make the mistake of revealing addresses, telephone numbers, and other personal information to supposed online friends they have never personally met.

Social networking can have a fun side to it. However, there is also a down side. Sometimes relationships get strained, and members of social networks become victims of cyber bullying. Other social net workers turn previously nice online friendships into bullying relationships (Hinduja & Patchin, 2009). Girls especially find online pictures of themselves in scantily clad clothing, or in no clothing at all. They are suddenly called names that refer to religion, skin color, social relationships, or any other activities that can be used to disgrace them. Adults have also been known to engage in cyber bullying of children. Recently there was a case where a parent, wanting to break up a relationship between her son and a girl used cyber bullying to discredit the girl. The result was the girl committed suicide (New York Times, November 28, 2007).

Sexual Solicitation/Child Pornography

The late 20th and early 21st Centuries have brought major changes in most middle-class households. There was a time when one parent was employed outside of the home while the remaining parent stayed at home to raise the children and to take care of household duties. Now, opportunities are readily available for both males and females to have employment away from their homes. The computer has become the new nanny, the new babysitter. Each day children spend several unsupervised hours using the computer. Child predators, usually men but occasionally women, spend hours visiting the same online areas often visited by children. These online predators are usually attempting to solicit children for sex as well as for other illegal activities.

To combat these predators, local police officers have been posing as children in an effort to have these offenders reveal themselves, often making dates at predetermined destinations. If the predator does show up waiting for him or her is a police officer instead of a child. Even though some predators are caught, law enforcement agencies believe they have only captured the tip of the iceberg (Finkelhor, Mitchell, & Wolak, 2000).

Child porn is more difficult to detect. Perpetrators can easily obtain porn over Internet purchases. Finding the porn usually occurs when the illegal material is transmitted to other subscribers in a network. Law enforcement officials merely have to purchase a membership in the network to have such material transferred to them as evidence. Since every computer in the world has its own specific Internet address, it is easy to determine from whose computer the porn was sent.

Sexual exploitation and pornography are included in this document because some of the perpetrators are white collar workers.  Although predators can come from all walks of life, both genders have been found guilty of these crimes. According to the Center for Sex Offender Management (March, 2000) legal documentation suggests that office workers, school personnel, police and fire personnel, doctors, lawyers, and even members of the clergy have been implicated with this kind of crime.

Fraud and Embezzlement

Fraud is usually defined as ill gotten gains while embezzlement is outright stealing by entering an individual’s or a corporation’s bank accounts. Both fraud and embezzlement have increased drastically since the advent of the computer. Because of the speed and accuracy of computers combined with the criminal’s privacy (away from prying eyes) these two crimes are especially easy to perpetuate. The white collar criminals who engage in these crimes are generally young and well educated. They come from all walks of life and would otherwise be considered good employees. They get away with their crimes usually because of poor or unaffordable accounting practices. For instance, charitable organizations have often been the victims of these crimes; these charitable organizations can not often afford to hire accountants and auditors to do regular checking of their accounts (Knapp & Knapp, 2001).

Embezzlement may involve the criminal opening accounts under his/her own name and funneling small sums of money into that account over extended periods of time. Just working with dollars and forgetting change can accumulate thousands of dollars over an extended period of time.

Fraud may involve sums of cash or the accumulation of funds for purchases of ill-gotten gains. This fraud may take place over a period of time and may involve the movement of products across international borders. For instance, hard goods may be stolen in one country, transported and sold in a different country. Original payment for these goods may be done through credit accounts, using counterfeit checks, or even by legitimate means—but for sums considerably less than the earnings the merchandise will bring in some other locale.

Worms, Viruses, and Trojan Horses

Sometimes customers or employee associates disagree with company policies and want to “get even.” The introduction of worms, viruses, and Trojan Horses are not outright computer theft, but programs of this nature serve to slow down or disrupt a company’s business procedures (Aquilina, 2008). The time spent by companies eliminating these programs can create a loss of both revenue and clientele. Worms are programs that eat huge amounts of memory causing computers to slow down or even stop. Thus, if a high volume enterprise contracts a computer worm it is possible they will lose their technological advantage while their computers slow to a crawl. A computer virus usually enters the computer structure through a network and can affect several work stations connected to that network. A virus can act like a worm, consuming memory, and slow down a network or it can maliciously destroy complete programs or stored files associated with those programs. A Trojan horse looks like a normal program but sits dormant in a computer network until a remote programmer issues commands to activate it. Once activated it acts like either a worm or a virus, slowing down or destructing programs. Trojan horses can also be transferred from computer to computer by attaching itself to disks and CDs.

Espionage

Computer espionage comes in two forms although engaging in espionage is carried on in the same manner in both forms. The first form is corporate computer espionage; the second is in the area of national security. Guarding one’s secrets is done through the use of firewalls and assigning pass codes to files. Any person who can break through firewalls along with invalidating pass codes can engage in espionage (Libecki, 2009). The more secret the organization needs to be the more difficult it will be for individuals to break into their security. Key logging is a form of spyware. It can easily be attached to a computer through Windows pop-ups. This spyware monitors what computer users enter into their systems. Key logging can be modified to monitor the most expertly devised security systems; it can be used to gain access to a computer’s most secret files. In has been used successfully in monitoring corporate networks and to a lesser, although sometimes much more serious purpose, of monitoring a nation’s secrets including defense materials. Signs of corporate espionage become apparent when private information becomes public or when secret company information becomes readily available to the general public. Signs of national or international espionage become apparent when normally kept secrets, e.g. military defense secrets, become available to foreign governments. Such knowledge in the wrong hands can make a whole nation vulnerable to terrorist activities by groups located anywhere in the world.

Summary

This paper examines different kinds of computer crime. It is especially difficult to determine which crimes are related to the white collar community and which crimes are related to other groups. Typically, the white collar community is thought of as office workers and professional level employees while the blue collar community may be thought of as being less educated and engaged in jobs where brawn is more important than brains. It is this student’s belief that computer crime, or for that matter, any crime, should be looked upon for what it is: a way to achieve personal gain or to satisfy an emotional need to cause harm to others.

All of the computer crimes discussed in this paper fit those characteristics. Phishing schemes involve ways to steal an innocent person’s identity. Nigerian scams are ways to get people to part with their money without actually holding a weapon to them. In most lotteries there will be one or two winners and thousands of losers; illegal lotteries have no winner.

Social networking is a relatively new way of making friends online with no interpersonal contact. As in any interpersonal relationship, we do not always agree with friends or loved ones. Instead of speaking directly to a single individual we can now involve the entire online community. Friendly relationships terminate. Threats of bodily harm are described as bullying.

Like the other computer crimes discussed in this paper, sexual solicitation and child pornography do not limit themselves to any one community. Members of the white collar community including doctors, lawyers, teachers, accountants, and even members of the clergy engage in solicitation and are often arrested by members of law enforcement posing as children.

Well educated individuals commit fraud and embezzlement, but such activities are not limited to employees of large institutions. Heads of non-profits, working alone in their offices, have greater opportunities to commit fraud and embezzlement. Disgruntled housewives and even grandmothers have figured out how to remove funds from their loved ones to their own accounts, again for personal gain.

Worms, viruses, and Trojan horses usually require people who are more educated in the ways computers operate. Individuals engaging in these activities need at least minimal amounts of programming skills. The effect of using these methods is to slow down or alter the success of businesses upon which they are imposed.

Finally, espionage has similarities to phishing schemes. In the former, information is stolen from corporations or even from government agencies while in the latter information is stolen from individuals.

Computer crime is relatively new to law enforcement agencies. They have had to add programmers and other skilled computer technicians to their staff. A major issue in catching computer criminals is the geographic proximity between the criminal and the victim. In an era when a robber held-up a victim at gunpoint the victim could identify facial and voice characteristics. He could also identify communities in which he was travelling or where the crime took place. In computer crime the criminal may not even be in the same country as his victim. For law enforcement to be effective there has to be collaboration between legal agencies in many cooperating nations. Although steps are being taken to curb computer crime, at least for the time being, computer crime will probably rise while one-on-one crime will remain the same or even diminish.

References

Aguilina, J. (2008). Malware forensics: Investigating and analyzing malicious code. Burlington, MA: Syngress Publishing.

Bossler, A. (2010). On-line activities, guardianship, and malware infection: An examination of routine activities theory. International Journal of Cyber Criminology, 3(1), 400-420.

Center for Sex Offender Management. (March, 2000). Engaging advocates and other victim service providers in community management of sex offenders. Silver Spring, MD.

Coleman, M. (2005). A terrible danger to the morals of the country: The Irish Hospitals’ sweepstake in Great Britain, 1030-1987. School of History, Queen’s University, Belfast.

Finkelhor, D., Mitchell, K., & Wolak, J. (2000). Online victimization: A report on the nation’s youth. Alexandria, VA: National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J. (2009). Bullying beyond the schoolyard: Preventing and responding to cyberbullying. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Knapp, C. & Knapp, M. (2001). The effects of experience and explicit fraud risk assessment in detecting with analytical procedures. Accounting, organizations, and Society, 26(1), 25-37.

Libicki, M. (2009). Cyberdeterrence and cyberwar. Santa Monica, CA: RAND.

New York Times (November 28, 2007). A hoax turned fatal draws anger but no charges.

Nhan, J. (2009). Pot of gold at the end of the Internet rainbow: Further examination of fraudulent email solicitation. International Journal of Cyber Criminology, 3(1), 452-475.

Pontell, H. (2009). White collar delinquency. Crime, Law, and Social Change, 51(1), 147-162.

Savirimuthu, J. (2008). Identity theft and the gullible computer user: What Sun Tzu in the Art of War might teach. Journal of International Commercial Law & Technology, 3(2), 120-128.

Shostack, A. (2008). The new school of information security. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Addison-Wesley.

Warren, A. (2007). Stolen identity: Regulating the illegal trade in personal data in the ‘data based society. International Law, Computers, & Technology, 21(2), 177-190.

Wison, C. (2009). Computer attack and cyberterrorism. NY: Nova Science Publishers.

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