Essay, Research Paper: Computer Crime 

Computers

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In today’s 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 1990’s, 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 1970’s.One
incident caused by phreaks, involved the New York City Police Department.
Phreaks broke into the NYPD’s 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.
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