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An Introduction to Computer Crime and the Burden It Imposes on Society

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An Introduction to Computer Crime and the Burden it Imposes on Society

In today's society, one must be alerted to the growing problem of computer crime in the United States and abroad. According to Icove, Seger, and VonStorch (1995):

Computer crime encompasses a wide range of offenses, from the physical theft and destruction of equipment, to the electronic sabotage and misappropriation of data and systems, to the outright theft of money (p. 17). There is perhaps no other form of crime that cuts so broadly across the types of criminals and the severity of their offenses as computer crime (p. 29).

Individuals who commit this type of crime are known as hackers. Hackers are responsible for billions of dollars of lost and stolen money and put a great strain upon our law enforcement and economy. By examining what computer crime is and how it affects society, one can better understand why computer crime is considered to be a great burden upon modern society.


As a result of the surge in computer usage, new methods of perpetrating crime have surfaced (Schjolberg, p. 3). According to Robert Cringely of Inc. (2003):

The term 'computer crime' was coined during the Mainframe Age, and the perceived threat then was from employees who might program bank or company computers to conduct millions of tiny thefts, grabbing a penny here and there and accumulating millions of dollars over time. When computer crime finally became a reality in the 1990s it was the Internet Age and the criminals weren't, for the

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most part, company employees--they were kids and with bad attitudes and too much time on their hands (p. 61).

Due to the ever-changing interpretation of computer crime, we must first examine the characteristics of computer crime. Some authorities define computer crime as a theft of services or using a computer to steal large sums of money. Other authorities define computer crime as the use of a computer to "perpetrate any scheme to defraud others of funds, services, and property" (Bequai, 1978, p. 3). One could argue that criminals have become more intelligent because computer criminals have "less than 1% chance of being caught, prosecuted, and convicted of their deeds" (Stephensen, 2000, p. 4).

Types of Computer Crime

With more access than in the past, these modern day criminals have developed many different ways to perpetrate a crime using a computer. The common types of computer crime cut across a wide spectrum and are best examined and categorized by the type of security that should prevent the crime. Breaches such as these include violations of physical security, personnel security, communications and data security, and operations security (Icove, Seger, & VonStorch, 1995, p. 29).

Breaches of physical security

The first type of computer crime can be categorized into types of breaches of physical security. Physical security is primarily concerned with "the physical protection of the computer, computer equipment, computer media, and the overall physical facility from natural disasters, accidents of various kinds, and intentional attacks" (Icove, Seger, & VonStorch, 1995, p. 30). The breaches of physical security subclass contain the acts of

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dumpster diving, wiretapping, eavesdropping on emanations, and denial or degradation of service.

Dumpster diving is a term given to a very simple form of a physical security breech. This crime occurs when someone scavenges through material that has been thrown away. These criminals, known as industrial spies, have been known to gather information about their competitors through this method. A real world situation where Dumpster diving occurred was when Colonel Oliver North was caught dealing with Iran in the Regan Scandal. Colonel North believed that he had deleted sensitive email but was surprised when the information was retrieved and presented at the hearings on the Iran-Contra affair (p. 32).

The next type of offense classified as a breach of physical security is wiretapping. Criminals wiretap by attacking, damaging, and picking up data that is flowing across telephone and networking wires. The goal of the criminal in this type of offense is most often to eavesdrop on communication. For instance, when a criminal places a simple induction loop wrapped around a networking wire he or she is tapping into a network. This type of offense can be used to gather most voice and data communications that come across the wire.

Eavesdropping on emanations is a concern primarily for organizations that deal with military and intelligence data. This occurs when criminals monitor, intercept, and decode sensitive information that is transferred via computers. A gateway to this offense is created because of the fact that computers emit a distinct electronic pulse when the keyboard is struck. Criminals in turn decipher this information to their advantage.

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The last attack classified under breeches of physical security is denial or degradation of service. This type offense occurs when an individual deliberately attempts to shut down or slow down the availability of the computer. Criminals can slow down or disrupt availability by employing explosives, shutting off power, or creating electromagnetic disturbances (Icove, Seger, & VonStorch, 1995, p. 30).

Breaches of personnel security

The next main type of computer crime is classified as crime that perpetrates breaches of personnel security. This type of offense can be seen and related to many of the other types of computer crime. Offenses in this category include masquerading, social engineering, harassment, and software piracy.

According to Icove, Seger, & VonStorch (1995), "Masquerading occurs when one person uses the identity of another to gain access to a computer" (p. 35). The most common form of physical masquerading is called piggybacking. Piggybacking is the ever-famous incident where the nice employee holds the door for the individual who is for some reason preoccupied. A masquerader can damage one's data, reputation, and life by pretending that he or she is the authorized operator. The most common type of electronic masquerading is the use of unauthorized passwords in the electronic form.

Social engineering "relates to obtaining



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