Other Free Encyclopedias » Law Library - American Law and Legal Information » Crime and Criminal Law » Computer Crime - Categorizing Computer-related Crime, Computer Crime Statutes, International Initiatives, Agencies Focused On Computer Crimes

Computer Crime - Categorizing Computer-related Crime

crimes criminal activity example

A precise definition of computer crime is problematic. This is because of the array of different forms and forums in which the crime may appear. A single category cannot accommodate the wide divergence of conduct, perpetrators, victims, and motives found in examining computer crimes. Adding to this confusion is the fact that computer crimes also can vary depending upon the jurisdiction criminalizing the conduct. The criminal conduct can be the subject of punishment under a state statute. There is also an odd mixture of federal offenses that can be used to prosecute computer crimes. But computer crimes are not just domestic. Because computers operate internationally, the definition of computer crime can be influenced by the law of other countries as well. Despite debate among leading experts, there is no internationally recognized definition of computer crime.

At the core of the definition of computer crime is activity specifically related to computer technologies. Thus, stealing a computer or throwing a computer at another person would not fall within the scope of the definition of computer crime in that these activities do not use the technology as the means or object of the criminal act.

Computers serve in several different roles related to criminal activity. The three generally accepted categories speak in terms of computers as communication tools, as targets, and as storage devices.

The computer as a communication tool presents the computer as the object used to commit the crime. This category includes traditional offenses such as fraud committed through the use of a computer. For example, the purchase of counterfeit artwork at an auction held on the Internet uses the computer as the tool for committing the crime. While the activity could easily occur offline at an auction house, the fact that a computer is used for the purchase of this artwork may cause a delay in the detection of it being a fraud. The use of the Internet may also make it difficult to find the perpetrator of the crime.

A computer can also be the target of criminal activity, as seen when hackers obtain unauthorized access to Department of Defense sites. Theft of information stored on a computer also falls within this category. The unauthorized procuring of trade secrets for economic gain from a computer system places the computer in the role of being a target of the criminal activity.

A computer can also be tangential to crime when, for example, it is used as a storage place for criminal records. For example, a business engaged in illegal activity may be using a computer to store its records. The seizure of computer hard drives by law enforcement demonstrates the importance of this function to the evidencegathering process.

In some instances, computers serve in a dual capacity, as both the tool and target of criminal conduct. For example, a computer is the object or tool of the criminal conduct when an individual uses it to insert a computer virus into the Internet. In this same scenario, computers also serve in the role of targets in that the computer virus may be intended to cripple the computers of businesses throughout the world.

The role of the computer in the crime can also vary depending upon the motive of the individual using the computer. For example, a juvenile hacker may be attempting to obtain access to a secured facility for the purpose of demonstrating computer skills. On the other hand, a terrorist may seek access to this same site for the purpose of compromising material at this location. Other individuals may be infiltrating the site for the economic purpose of stealing a trade secret. Finally, unauthorized computer access may be a display of revenge by a terminated or disgruntled employee.

In addition to computer crimes having several roles, the individuals who commit the crimes do not fit one description. The only common characteristic of the individuals committing these crimes is their association with a computer. The perpetrator of a computer crime could easily be a juvenile hacker, sophisticated business person, or terrorist. Likewise, the victims of computer crimes do not fit a specific category in that the spectrum of possible victims includes individuals, financial institutions, government agencies, corporations, and foreign governments.

Computer crimes often fit within traditional criminal law categories in that computers can be used to commit crimes such as theft, fraud, copyright infringement, espionage, pornography, or terrorism. In some instances, existing criminal categories adapt new terminology to reflect the computer nature of the crime. For example, cyberterrorism is used when the terrorist activity involves computers, and cyberlaundering relates to money laundering via computer. Trespass crimes take on a new dimension when the unauthorized access occurs in cyberspace. For example, in 2000, the website for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee was defaced by intruders who downloaded e-mail addresses and credit card numbers from the site.

Criminal conduct that may appear to have no connection with computers can, in fact, be affected by technology. For example, stalking presents itself as a serious concern growing from increased use of the Internet. Cyberstalking generally involves the stalking of a person via the Internet or other electronic communication. Access to personal information on the Internet makes cyberstalking particularly problematic. Recognizing the need to consider the effect of technology on crimes such as stalking, the Attorney General issued the "1999 Report on Cyberstalking: A New Challenge for Law Enforcement and Industry" that describes the efforts that law enforcement can take to deter this criminal activity. First Amendment concerns factor into whether these and other legal initiatives regarding computer crimes will withstand constitutional challenges.

Computer crimes do not always correlate with traditional descriptions of illegality. Some activities present unique forms of criminal conduct that bear no resemblance to common law or existing crimes. For example, computerization allows for new types of crimes, such as trafficking in passwords.

Other computer crimes may have a resemblance to traditional crimes but the conduct may not fit neatly into an existing category. For example, a "page-jacker" who misappropriates material from another individual's website may face criminal liability for a copyright violation. If the "page-jacker," however, manipulates a website to redirect individuals to his or her own website, it remains uncertain whether this fraudulent conduct fits within classic theft or fraud offenses. Specific computer crime statutes are tailored to meet these new forms of criminal conduct. The ability the Internet provides in accessing information with a degree of anonymity makes some crimes, such as identity theft, important priorities for the criminal justice system.

The technical and changing nature of computer technology can make it difficult for those who are drafting criminal statutes. The array of new terms and new meanings given to existing terms requires a certain level of expertise in order to understand the computer activity. Examples of simple words used in the context of computer activity are the terms "virus" and "worm." A federal court explained, "A 'worm' is a program that travels from one computer to another but does not attach itself to the operating system of the computer it 'infects."' This differs from a computer "virus," which does attach to the computer operating system that it enters (United States v. Morris, 928 F.2d 504, 505n.1 (2d Cir. 1991)).

Computer Crime - Computer Crime Statutes [next]

User Comments

Your email address will be altered so spam harvesting bots can't read it easily.
Hide my email completely instead?

Cancel or

Vote down Vote up

almost 8 years ago

hyerggbbvb///..ufhe3r

Vote down Vote up

almost 8 years ago

hyerggbbvb///..ufhe3r

Vote down Vote up

almost 8 years ago

hyerggbbvb///..ufhe3r

Vote down Vote up

almost 8 years ago

hyerggbbvb///..ufhe3r