What’s up with Computer Security Crime?


Illustration of a robot pointing a deadly handgun

This is the first of a short series exploring Computer security and Cybercrime.

Before we look at Cybercrime in any depth, it's important to define it. It's essentially a word describing any crime committed through the use of computers and often using the internet. Notably, the US Department of Justice expands on this to include 'any illegal activity that uses a computer for storage of evidence'.

Examples of crimes made possible through the use of computers include:

Identity Theft
Most usually perpetrated by scammers or hackers to con victims into giving up passwords to credit or banking services. It often executed by so called 'keylogging' programs which record keystrokes and allow the perpetrator to make online purchases with stolen card details. A popular form of Identify theft is 'Phishing' where someone is tricked into surrendering personal information, credit card and account details etc. They're often easy to spot as not often well personalised.

Opinion differs on what this is, though my definition is where computers, networks and the internet are used to harm the public in pursuit of personal, political or ideological goals. A well known example includes the Stuxnet worm which was thought to be designed to attack Iran's Bushehr nuclear reactor. Unlike traditional viruses, this worm normally propogates via a USB drive rather than public internet.

Advanced Fee Fraud
Colloquially referred to as '419 scams', as it refers to the section of Nigerian law related to fraud. If you've received an email offering to share vast wealth in exchange for an upfront fee to cover minor expenses, you've been a potential victim already. It's a form of confidence trick that according to a report cited in Wikipedia, led to a loss of £150m to the UK economy in 2006. The average victim lost £5,100!

Transaction Fraud
A very straightforward fraud. One example might be listing an item for sale on an auction website such as Ebay. The item may not even exist. Once payment is taken, no delivery is made. Another example could be using a stolen credit card to purchase items.

Typically pirates look to break protection, then copy digital products such as films, music, computer applications, and make them available via file sharing networks. The music and film industries have fought back hard, leading to some high profile cases against file sharers.

Whilst classifed as a crime, hacking is not always malicious. A hacker first overcomes their victims computer security then takes control of their system. Some do it purely for the challenge of finding loopholes. Others, to exploit the system for financial gain or to cause damage to the victim.

There's a common misperception that cybercrime is something new. Far from it. Indeed,rosewell-steffen one of the earliest reported incidents was New York based Roswell Steffen - a Union Dime bank employee who used a central computer to shift customer accounts around in order to embezzle $1.5m for use on gambling in 1973.

In the next post, we'll be exploring how Cybercrime is changing and what measures are being taken to prevent it.

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