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Cyber Crime : Issues and Threats

Introduction

Developments in technology have come with both advantages and disadvantages. The close association of technology and crime is neither new nor young. Over time, the potential to create harm through the supposed advantage of technologies has grown exponentially especially on the lines that exploit chains of trust of people involved (Wall 2). The revolution in information technology has brought forth criminal activity popularly referred to as cybercrime.

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According to (Wall 2), it is called so because of the use of networked technologies that are accessed by individuals connected to networked computers. The crime is informational, global and networked. Cybercrime therefore basically involves the stealing or manipulation of information effectively distorting its values across global networks. Wall contends that the basic crime ideas and aims have remained universal over time. The only difference is that the internet has acted as a force multiplier and added sophistication to the execution.

According to Regoli & Hewitt (489), the global cost of cybercrime tops $500 billion annually. These results from the damage and disruption to commerce, traveling and normal operation of the social system. Few of these cases are reported to the police and less than 2% result in a conviction.

Computer-assisted crime where computers are used to perform illegal and acquisitive acts on corporate and individuals is rampant in the world today. According to Wall, there are three distinct groups of computer-assisted crime. Virtual bank robbery is one of the groups. The most vulnerable systems are billing and banking, where cybercriminals hack into the system and steal money. Stealing of credit card identities and bank account passwords fall under this category.

Virtual sting is another category where fraudsters hack online systems to defraud individuals and commercial enterprise. Virtual theft is the third type of computer aided crimes. It involves the theft of intellectual or informational properties available on networked platforms. Books, music and articles belong to this group. According to Kitchen (1), there are two types. The first category involves direct attacking of networks by viruses and malware while in the second category involves attack on independent computer devices and networks. Phishing, identity theft, fraud and information warfare are the basic forms of attacks on independent computer networks. The above categories and types are the blanket classification under which various forms take place.

Forms of cyber crime

Computer viruses

These are malicious programs developed to modify genuine installed programs by inserting new codes into them. They cause different effects from destruction of files to corruption of installed programs.

Cyber vandalism

This is the deliberate sabotage of web files, web pages or any other malicious destruction of electronic files and computer programs

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Denial of service

This includes the intentional disruption of e mail or internet service with the intent of causing interruption of normal service.

Hacking

This is the unauthorized access of computers. Others include spoofing, sniffing, spamming and spyware.

Highly developed countries bear the brunt of cyber crime. Statistics about cyber crime in the United States are startling. For instance, one out of three Americans each year becomes a victim of cyber crime (Hewitt 490). Hewitt and Regoli further say that more than 60 million Americans have acknowledged receiving a phishing e mail. In the business arena, more than 90% of all businesses according to Hewitt have suffered from a computer breach from cyber criminals.

Regoli & Hewitt (490) says that everybody has a high chance of being victimized by cyber criminals because individuals have little or no control of databases. Many documented cases point to the fact said above. In 2004 BJ whole sale club lost a portable computer containing details credit card details of over 40,000 clients. The veteran’s association lost a laptop containing details of 26 million American veterans

Perhaps to underscore the extent to which cyber crime is threatening, one should carefully look at the budget allocation to the United States military programmes that aim at developing anti-cyber attacks. The pentagon has been a victim of attacks by hackers believed to be contractors of enemy nations pursuing intelligence in American Military databases. Numerous countries including the UK and US have enacted laws that specifically deal with cyber crime. One of the most famous cases involving cyber crime was that of smith vs. U.S. David L. Smith, age 31 created the Mellissa computer virus that was blamed for the loss of millions of dollars by various businesses in the US.

History of cyber crime

According to Schell& Martin (4), the history of cyber crime dates back to the 1960’s and 70’s in the Massachusetts institute of technology. Graduates of MIT used skills acquired from MIT to employ advanced control systems on the Tech Model Railroad Club. That effectively made them the first white hat hackers. During the time the word hacker meant individuals who were focused technologically and spend their time connecting switches to relays with cables (Schell& Martin 4). The early hackers according to Schell and Martin were only motivated by the need to find solutions to information technology problems. (Jain 61) adds that the term hacker was used in the 1960’s to describe someone who had mastered computer systems and would be able to do more than what they initially meant to do.

Then there emerged the Black hat hackers with malicious intentions who gave rise to all forms of cyber crimes that exist today. Hacking in the 1970’s became associated with the “Yippie” movement that portrayed itself as anti establishment (Jain 62). Cyber crime was motivated by the basic principle that information stored in other computers could be beneficial to some individuals or corporations.

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Phreakers who messed with the phone system became the first system hackers at the time. In the 1980’s the federal Bureau of Investigation made high profile arrests of hackers including Kevin Mitnick, an event which gave impetus to the hacking culture. Movies like War Games and Hackers in the 80’s and 90’s popularized the hacking culture and further inspired cyber crime. Cyber crime developed over time to be what it is today and the main culprits over time have been phreakers, crackers and network hackers.

Phreakers

These were the first known electronic hackers in the 1970’s. They would break to phone systems and make free calls. Phreakers used blue and red boxes to trick phone systems to thinking they were accepting coins hence the making of free calls. (Jain 64) explains that phreakers also developed cheese boxes that they used to connect two lines to allow dealers to receive calls from a remote location and to disguise the number at which they were located.

Network hackers

The introduction of early personal computers in the 1970’s gave rise to network hackers who took advantage of the growing interconnectivity between computers over time. After the introduction of the internet, file sharing was easy and computers all over the globe become even more connected. In 1988, a self replicating worm was introduced in the United States which infected thousands of computers especially those operating on Berkeley UNIX.

Philip Zimmerman released a program called Pretty Good Privacy that could be used to protect sensitive messages. Criminals soon realized this program could be used to hide information from police agencies investigating them. Jain Further says that the fist cyber bank was developed in 1994, offering massive opportunities to hackers. The secret service in 1995 produced a wiretap that was used to prove that some thieves were selling illegal cell phone cloning equipment. In the same year a cracker was able to shut down various public systems in the US. The victims included the Intelligence Agency, The Justice Departments and the Air force.

According to Jain (74), the following three years proved the sophistication of cyber criminals as they launched numerous attacks on various US government corporate websites. Chief among them were the Department of Commerce, UNICEF, the New York Times, e bay and Microsoft. The Mellissa virus caused numerous company e-mails servers to shot down (Jain 74). Today there are millions of cyber criminal acts from Nigerian Letter scams to get rich quick schemes, bank hacking and money wiring scams and proliferation of terrorism on the internet.

According to Kitchen (2), employees would initially inflict physical damage to computers to get back to their employers. However the introduction of home and personal computers expended the crime space for hackers. Phishing scams, computer viruses, identity theft and cyber stalking became common as a result.

Smith vs. U.S case

A good example of the modern day cyber criminals and the law governing such acts is the case of Smith David L. Smith was a New Jersey resident who created a computer virus in 1996 which upon its release, infected thousands of computers across the United States and shut e-mail systems around the globe (Newton 290). Smith used an alias to release the virus into the internet using a stolen outlook account together with his personal one.

He was arrested in April 1999 and charged by state and federal authorities. The virus was disguised as a file that contained access information to adult content websites. All networks that operated on Microsoft Window system were attacked. Additionally, the virus targeted those that were installed with Microsoft word processing software and had no updated security software. The virus further used Microsoft’s Outlook E-mail software to send e mails to the first fifty people on the receiver’s e mail address book resulting in considerable replication across the world. Thousands of computers were compromised and shut down due to overloading from the millions of emails they were handling.

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This forced owners to spend money in cleansing them or repairing the corrupted software. The virus caused devastating effects to people running certain computer products especially Microsoft’s MS Suit. According to (Newton 292) of the encyclopedia of high-tech crime and crime-fighting, the disruption Melissa caused was though to be worth over one billion dollars worldwide.

Many web administrators were caught off guard by the spreading Mellissa virus. Some of the systems, whose data was severely compromised or lost, were those that had not installed updated software from Microsoft, which could have halted the spread of the virus. The vulnerability of computers systems in the world was exposed by this event and it was later to be used a primary reference on anything to do with computer security.

The punitive measures meted against Smith to some extent only served to embolden hackers and virus developers in cyber crime world. The charges and sentence was considered lenient considering the damage his creation had caused. According to the federal law smith’s crime warranted a maximum of five years in prison while the state law warranted a maximum of ten years in prison. Finally the state authorities charged Smith with one count of second degree of computer theft. Besides the ten years he was facing in jail, a $150,000 fine was possible. On the federal level, he was charged with spreading a computer virus on purpose and intending to cause damage.

Smith was finally sentenced to 20 months in prison and a $5000 fine for disrupting public communication, after plea bargaining and pleading guilty to the charges. Before sentencing he was released on bail an action that infuriated many of the victims of Melissa’s destructive nature.

Future of Cyber Crime

Cyber crime is a phenomenon that bust to fame with the increase in popularity and dependence on computers. Considering information technology is a dynamic field which is ever changing, cyber criminals will always come up with new ways to counter the developments. Currently and in the past cyber criminals have used the computer as their prime to carry out their criminal activities. However, according Allen Paller of the Chattered Institute for IT, the future of cyber crime can be divided into three parts. They include attacks involving mobile devices, attack targets and attack techniques (Allen 13).

Mobile devices

With the development of gadgets like smart phones, like i-phones and HD2 which access the internet, cyber criminals have a larger platform from where they can launch their attacks. On the other hand, these smart gadgets may become the targets themselves because of the information they are holding. Because of the extension of the memory capabilities of smart phones, information stored in the devices like pictures, phone numbers, and private information forms the primary target of cyber criminals who in future may be able to access such gadgets. Blackmail will the prime motivation of criminals who may get hold of the information in smart phones.

Attack targets

Voice over the Internet

Another platform that cyber criminals are starting to exploit is the Voice over Internet Protocol. Such services like Skype, Google talk and Vonage have sometimes been integrated by criminals and used in the course of cyber crime. Cyber criminals take advantage of VoiP accounts installed by various companies and hack into them through insecure holes therefore making it look like it’s the company conducting the transaction.

A common trend that cyber criminals use with VoiP are e mails that people get instructing them to dial a secure toll free number because their account has been compromised. After dialing, the victim is normally prompted by an automated voice to dial their credentials which effectively give away their information.

Targeted cyber attacks

The institute predicts a surge in cyber attacks on governments especially the US. Spear phishing will especially be used by the attackers.

Cell phone worms

According to the institute, wireless data networks will be instrumental in spreading cell phone worm attacks. The number of phones that are likely to be attacked is one hundred thousand. The fact that mobile phones are increasingly accommodating sophisticated full featured operating systems like Opera mini. This will make cell phones fertile ground for hackers stealing personal information.

Attack techniques

Spyware

Criminals will use spyware especially to collect financial information so that they can sell from the victims. Keystroke loggers will especially revolutionalize cyber crime as criminals are able to username and password data. The fact that keystroke loggers can capture data beyond graphical click and password entry makes it attractive for hackers.

Security vulnerabilities

Some security researchers who stumble upon new computer vulnerabilities do sell the findings to cyber criminals who in turn develop applications that exploit computer networks. By the time these vulnerabilities are openly known, business and authorities could have lost a lot.

Rootkits

The institute estimates that cyber criminals will increase the use of rootkits to collect access information like usernames and passwords. They will also be used to make it hard for operating systems of target computer networks to detect attacks.

Cyber crime is a lucrative business for the executers. Though laws have been put in place to deter the vice, a lot of factors still play to cyber criminal’s favor. The ability to remain anonymous is attractive not only to the current criminals but also for the criminals groups with the financial capability to it in future if need be. Another option that may in future be available by cyber criminals is the possibility of developing and renting out softwares that can carry out specified attacks on specified targets.

Following the explosion of cyber crime and the ever-growing threat of cyber terrorism, many governments and organizations have put in place laws and conditions that are meant to curb cyber crime. The US government has been leading global efforts in combating computer and intellectual property. The creation of a Computer Crimes and Intellectual Property Section in the Department of Justice is one such effort (Regoli & Hewitt 491).

Their mandate of the D.O.J section is to prevent and deal with electronic penetrations, theft of data, and attacks on critical information systems. These laws have provisions that allow them to be amended as the situation demand. Given the possibility that cyber crime may evolve to the levels described above, the future of cyber crime has been focusing on the future efforts of combat the vice.

Conclusion

Combating cyber crime still has a long way to go. More laws need to be enacted while amending the current ones so that they can easily deal with the sophistication of cyber crime. Given that the next front that, cyber criminals are likely to attack are the mobile devices, it’s imperative that new technologies be developed to protect people.

Education of the public must be upped so that people can be able to take precautionary measures to avoid being victims of cyber crime activities. Education will also help people identify suspicious activities that may lead to being victimized by cyber criminals.

Works Cited

Allen, Paller. The Chattered Institute for IT. 2007. Web.

Jain, Atul. Cyber Crime: Cyber Crime : issues and threats. Delhi: Asha Books, 2005. Print.

Kitchen, Cute. Cyber Crime History and Cyber Crime Types. 2010. Web.

Newton, Michael. The encyclopedia of high-tech crime and crime-fighting. New York: Check Mark Books. 2004. Print.

Regoli, Robert, Hewitt, John. Exploring Criminal Justice. New York: Jones & Bartlette Learning, 2007. Print.

Schell, Bernadette Hlubik, Martin, Clemens. Cybercrime: A reference handbook. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO Inc, 2004. Print.

Wall, David. Cybercrime: The transformation of crime in the information age. Cambridge: Polity press, 2007. Print.

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