Computer Crime Essay

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The global growth in information technology—along-side unparalleled advances in productivity, commerce, communication, entertainment, and the dissemination of information—has precipitated new forms of antisocial, unethical, and illegal behavior. As more and more users become familiar with computing, the scope and prevalence of the problem grow. Computers and the Internet allowed for the modification of traditional crimes (stalking, fraud, trafficking of child pornography, identity theft) and the development of novel crimes (online piracy, hacking, the creation and distribution of viruses and worms).

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police define computer crime as “any illegal act fostered or facilitated by a computer, whether the computer is an object of a crime, an instrument used to commit a crime, or a repository of evidence related to a crime.” A computer is an object of a crime in instances of Web site defacement, denial of service, network security breaches, and theft or alteration of data. A computer is an instrument used to commit a crime in activities of credit card fraud, auction fraud, phishing, identity theft, counterfeiting and forgery, digital piracy, illegal use of online services, and cyberstalking. A computer is a repository of evidence used to commit a crime when data stored on a system aids or abets traditional criminal activity, as with tax evasion or drug trafficking.

Fiscal and Social Consequences of Computer Crime

As one of the fastest-growing criminal movements in the country, computer crimes cost society and private industry billions of dollars, an amount steadily increasing. Compared with the cost of traditional “street” crimes, the cost of computer and white-collar offenses is astronomically high. Experts estimate that the average bank robber nets $2,500, the average bank fraud nets $25,000, the average computer crime nets $500,000, and the average theft of technology loss is $1.9 million. Moreover, financial losses do not fully capture the extent of harm done to victims and society through such incidents.

Detection and Response

Computer crime is extremely difficult to detect, in part because of the power of computers to process, and the Internet to disseminate, electronic information rapidly and the fact that many people have access to the Internet at universities, businesses, libraries, and homes. When data communications take place at high speeds without personal contact, users are left with very little time to consider the implications of their actions online. Moreover, many computer crimes are relatively effortless and can be accomplished via a few keystrokes or by a simple “drag and drop” mouse maneuver that takes mere seconds. Additionally, temporal and spatial limitations are largely irrelevant in cyberspace, and both personal and property crimes can occur at any time and place because the Internet provides global interconnectivity.

Because they can use chat room pseudonyms, temporary e-mail accounts, multiple Internet venues, and even instant messaging programs, electronic offenders have an advantage in shielding their true identity. Relative anonymity perhaps frees potential and actual perpetrators from traditionally constraining pressures of society, conscience, morality, and ethics to behave in a normative manner. Also, words and actions that an individual might be ashamed or embarrassed to say or perform in a face-to-face setting are no longer off-limits or even tempered when they occur from behind a keyboard in a physically distant location from a personal or corporate victim. Many individuals may actually be emboldened when using electronic means to accomplish wrongdoing, because it perceivably requires less courage and fortitude to commit certain acts in cyberspace as compared with their counterparts in real space.

Furthermore, supervision is lacking in cyberspace. Many of the actions taken and electronic words exchanged are private and outside the purview and regulatory reach of others online or off-line. Both informal (e.g., parents, teachers) and formal (law enforcement) arms of social control have little ability to monitor, prevent, detect, and address instances of computer crime because it occurs largely from locations geographically removed from the privacy of one’s personal home or office computer.

There are a host of traditional problems associated with responding to computer crime. First, the law often does not address the intangible nature of the activity and location. Second, it is difficult to foster communication and collaboration between policing agencies on a national or international level because of funding issues, politics, and divergent opinions on criminalization and punishment. Third, prosecutors are also often reluctant to go after all computer criminals because they are limited by few or no resources, societal or political ambivalence, victim uncooperativeness, and the difficulties in case preparation for crimes that occur in cyberspace. Fourth, individuals and business victims are often hesitant to report the crime to authorities. Fifth, law enforcement entities often lack training and practice in recognizing, securing, documenting, and formally presenting computer crime evidence in a court of law.


  1. Casey, Eoghan. 2000. Digital Evidence and Computer Crime: Forensic Science, Computers and the Internet. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
  2. D’Ovidio, Robert and James Doyle. 2003. “A Study on Cyberstalking: Understanding Investigative Hurdles.” FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin 72(3):10—17.
  3. Grabosky, Peter. 2001. “Computer Crime: A Criminological Overview.” Forum on Crime and Society 1(1):35—53.
  4. Hinduja, Sameer. 2004. “Perceptions of Local and State Law Enforcement Concerning the Role of Computer Crime Investigative Teams.” Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management 27(3):341—57.
  5. Hinduja, Sameer. 2006. Music Piracy and Crime Theory. New York: LFB.
  6. Rider, B. A. K. 2001. “Cyber-Organized Crime: The Impact of Information Technology on Organized Crime.” Journal of Financial Crime 8(4):332—46.
  7. Rosoff, Stephen M., Henry N. Pontell, and Robert Tillman. 2006. Profit without Honor: White-Collar Crime and the Looting of America. 4th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  8. Taylor, Max and Ethel Quayle. 2003. Child Pornography: An Internet Crime. New York: Brunner-Routledge.

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