According to Carter (1995) there are four major forms of computer crimes, some of which are lesser offenses and some resulting in greater offense. These include crimes where (1) the computer is the target, (2) crimes where the computer is the instrument or vehicle through which crimes occur, (3) crimes where a computer is an accessory to other crimes being committed and (4) crimes that are associated with having many computers.
Crimes associated with the technological era, or presence of more computers are generally not considered as serious as other crimes. In crimes where computers are accessories to other crimes, or where a criminal may destroy data in the process of engaging in other crimes are more serious, but still less serious of the computer crimes. Crimes where the computer is the agent of crime, or crimes that occur to computers are among the most serious of crimes, because these crimes fall into the category of cybercrime (Icove, Seger & VonStorch, 1995).
Cybercrimes are increasingly common (Brenner, 2010). Today hackers or other criminals can access computer databases, and carry away information regarding the livelihood of persons, their finances, account numbers, and even work to steal an individual identity (Brenner, 2010). Perhaps even more insidious are crimes that are introduced into organizations through computer viruses, Trojans, malware or other agents (Brenner, 2010). Criminals can also access and infiltrate an organization through a computer, or through an application which may present an open door that is not fully secured. Private organizations have reasons to worry, as cybercrimes can affect the livelihood of the organization, and result in a tarnished reputation. Further, all employees working for an organization are placed at risk when cybercrimes occur. However, even more insidious are cybercrimes that are engaged in against public agencies. Today’s hackers are sophisticated; many have the ability to tap into large government or other public institutions. The threats that can arise from such attacks include the ability of cybercriminals to not simply steal personal information. Rather, cybercriminals may render an entire city helpless by infecting the utility department, electricity, fire and law enforcement response ability, and other mechanisms that are essential to the well-functioning of a community and an organization or public entity (Brenner, 2010). In this regard, cybercrime poses a real threat. Cybercrimes no longer affect only the individual; rather, these serious and often devastating computer crimes can potentially affect entire populations.
There have been many leaks in the press regarding the effects of recent computer crimes, and actions that US government agents and others are taking to prevent and address such crimes. On an individual level, citizens can take action to protect themselves from potential computer crimes. These protections include using updated virus and malware protection, using secure passwords that are regularly changed, and being aware of one’s surroundings (Brenner, 2010). For example, someone using an internet connection in a public location is more at risk for having their information breeched than someone using a private, password-encrypted internet connection. Understanding this can help individual citizens take action to protect their personal information, including identity, finances, and more.
On a global level, the Department of Homeland Security in the US, along with other international agencies, have been looking at ways to protect government and public agencies from the increasing threat of cybercrime and computer crimes (Brenner, 2010). More agencies are instituting a practice of knowledge sharing, where information is provided to designated individuals regarding computer operations, risks, potential hazards, and emergency response action in the event that computers are compromised (Brenner, 2010). The government is more often working with independent organizations and communities to help secure information that may be freely transferred over the web. Further, agencies are working with private organizations in an attempt to help them identify potential risks, including open doors through which viruses and other malware can be introduced. By helping agencies develop better defense mechanisms, and determining where open doors exist, then organizations and communities as a whole have a much better chance of fighting off computer crime in the event it poses a risk.
Still, despite these efforts, more work needs to be done to protect agencies and individual citizens. Computer security is not a foolproof method, as hackers and others are constantly seeking new ways to enter formerly secure systems (Brenner, 2010). To help combat this risk, security professionals including IT professionals must work to diligently update a computer and organization’s security policies, and practices. This may include constantly changing the security policy and procedure, to stay one step ahead of potential computer criminals. By constantly changing security passwords, privileges and other information, there is less risk that a cybercriminal will determine a clear path toward execution of a computer crime (Brenner, 2010). The safest policy that an organization or individual can take is to constantly share information with appropriate security agents, and to update security practices and procedures. If security is not addressed, then computer criminals have free reign when it comes to accessing information.
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to computer crimes. As technology continues to impact life and advance in the age of globalization, so too will computer crimes and the criminals that conduct them. However, with communities working together with law enforcement and public officials, there is less chance that computer criminals will have free access to information and the ability to reign terror over the community or the public agencies that protect them.
- Brenner, S.W. (2010). Cybercrime: Criminal Threats from Cyberspace. ABC CLIO.
- Carter, D. (1995).Computer Crime Categories. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, 64(7): 21.
- Icove, D., Seger, K. & VonStorch, W. (1995). Computer Crime: A Crimefighter’s Handbooks. O’Reilly and Sons.