Is computer crime qualitatively different from other crimes?
Normally, a crime is committed when a person is involved in activities that cause harm to another person and will usually include stealing, murder, harassment among others. A crime becomes computer crime when the criminal activities are done using a computer. Computer crime and other crimes have the some similar objectives, they both lead to loss of money, goods and information. For instance, stealing a personal computer whose hard disk contains important company documents is the same as stealing a brief case containing important company documents since they both lead to loss of information. Furthermore, using a computer for forgery is a computer crime and is similar to using a pen with ink for forgery.
However, computer crimes are more advanced in the way they are done, the person who does it and even the methods used to solve them, than other conventional crimes. The quality of computer crimes can be analyzed by observing several unique characteristics of the crime.
Status of the criminal
In most cases, the computer criminals are well educated, professional programmers with much computer knowledge (Clutterbuck 9). To break into a computer, computer literacy is a requirement and hence the criminal must have this knowledge and experience. Furthermore, the computer criminal will rarely have a criminal record. The criminal might be a simple person working in a small company, for example, a secretary of the manager in a manufacturing industry. The secretary is computer literate since it is a one of the necessities to that profession, and will rarely have a criminal record.
On the other hand, a conventional crime can be committed by anyone either literate or illiterate as it might not require any knowledge or experience from a training institution. For instance breaking into a house and stealing the television set, the criminal is only required to ensure that the house is empty and nothing else. Furthermore, in most cases, this type of crime is committed by people with criminal records. This therefore makes it easier to suspect and even catch them in the act.
These activities may include unauthorized entry, harassment, drug trafficking and many others.
In conventional crime, unauthorized entry involves breaking into someone’s apartment or an organisation such as a bank through the door or window. When a criminal breaks a window or the door, the proprietor will see and will definitely call the law enforcement authority to investigate and solve the crime. Furthermore, in a conventional crime such as this one, the criminal will usually leave some evidence and can be caught easily. For instance when breaking the window, a blood stain or even hair might be left and hence found by the forensics personnel. This evidence can then be analyzed and matched with that of the suspect and this could lead to the arrest and prosecution of the suspect.
On the other hand, a computer criminal can read and even copy confidential information from a computer without altering or deleting the information (Standler). For instance, a disgruntled employee of an organisation who may have the password and user name can get into the organisation’s computer system and read confidential information. The other organisation employees will never know since there is no evidence left. Even if they suspect, their suspicion cannot stand in court as evidence thus the employee will walk freely. Furthermore, there are some computer criminals that have the capability of doing immense damage to a person or a company by deleting or changing information in a computer (Standler). For instance, the criminal can read confidential information and then delete the entire information. The victim will notice the loss of information but will never know who deleted it and this can affect the victim adversely in terms of losses incurred. In such a case, the criminal has deleted the evidence and without evidence the case cannot stand in the court of law.
Harassment and stalking
The aim of the harasser or the stalker is usually to cause emotional distress to the victim. It may involve sending e-mails with hate messages, threats, among others. In most cases, the e-mail address is disclosed thereby making it impossible to identify the sender, while is some cases the e-mail address is visible but is not from the original sender. The criminal can use someone else’s e-mail address to harass his victims thereby harming the authorized user of that e-mail address (Standler). While in a conventional crime, the harasser will either post letters containing hate messages or threats to the victim, or take them personally and secretly to the victim’s place. Consequently, a computer stalker will use the victim’s phone number or a tracking device and with the internet he can monitor the behaviour and movement of his victim. While a conventional stalker, will follow his victims around either by walking or driving.
In harassing or stalking people the computer criminal does not move around much, most of the time is spent sitting in a computer thereby little or no fatigue experienced. While the conventional criminal experiences much fatigue since much time is spent moving around following his victim. Furthermore, by following the victims personally this increases the chances of him being identified and arrested, but in using the computer the chances of him being identified are very slim.
Furthermore, harassment and stalking using the computer is cost efficient than without a computer. By utilizing the computer, the cost is mainly on the internet while in a conventional crime much fuel and energy is used and fuel is usually expensive than internet usage.
Normally, unless the motive of the harasser or stalker is to kill the victim, the law enforcers are usually not interested with this type of crime. Furthermore, harassment and stalking are treated as a minor crime by the law this therefore makes it extremely difficult to catch a computer harasser or stalker (Standler).
This involves transporting and selling illegal drugs such as marijuana, amphetamines among others. Normally this crime is committed through face-to-face communication where the seller and the buyer meet in secret places and exchange the goods and money. In some cases, the law enforcers can catch them in these secret places, arrest them and prosecute them.
However, nowadays the computer technology has increased the efficiency and effectiveness of doing this business. With the computer there is no face-to-face meeting in secret place, the seller and the buyer communicate through encrypted messages which law enforcers cannot easily detect and this has made it extremely challenging to catching them in the act.
Tools used and Damage caused
The normal conventional criminal will use a gun, knife or any equipment that can harm a person. These tools are usually used to cause physical harm to a person or to frighten him or her to do what the criminal wants. In such a case, the criminal will be using force to get what he wants. For instance, a conventional criminal robbing a bank will use a gun and shoot anyone who comes in his way thereby killing him or inflicting much physical damage.
On the other hand, the computer criminal will use computer programs to inflict damages to people. These programs usually include viruses, worms, among others (Standler). With these malicious programs an individual can break into a computer, read, copy and even delete vital information. A computer criminal will not inflict physical damages to the victim; will leave his victim physically healthy since there is no physical contact. For instance, the computer criminal can prevent the authorized user from using his computer by using malicious programs. These programs will put the central processing unit into an infinite loop or even crash the server by feeding it with fake web pages requests thereby denying access the authorized user (Standler).
Prevention of crimes
To prevent a conventional crime usually involve physical measures such as putting big and stronger padlocks, putting grills on windows, increasing the number of security guards and many more. However, preventing computer crimes which involve usage of worms, viruses and other villains like Trojan horse has been successful in some way. It involves using preventive mechanisms such as antivirus software, regular update of the operating applications and systems, spam removal and using firewalls (Ferraro 422). Furthermore, this preventive measures are costly and do not guarantee that your computer is safe from these malicious programs.
Investigating and solving crimes
The methods used in solving conventional crimes are usually simpler than those used in solving computer crimes. To solve a crime, knowledge, experience and the right tools are a necessity. Crimes are solved mainly by the law enforcers who include the police, detectives and in extreme cases the criminal investigation agencies such as the Federal Bureau Investigation (FBI) agency.
Solving conventional crimes is easier since in most cases there is enough physical evidence left by the criminal at the crime scene. This therefore makes it easier for the investigating officers to catch the criminal. In most cases, the basic investigative and forensic skills are required to investigate and solve the crime.
However, with the advancement in technology, solving computer crimes is becoming more complex and challenging to solve. In investigating and solving computer crimes effectively a number of disciplines are required to work together. The law enforcement officers will normally work with forensics scientists, security and computer professionals, among others. The law enforcement officers will provide their investigating skills while the other professionals will provide evidence collection and analysis skills. To collect and analyse the data evidence different specialised training is required and this is usually found in the computer profession (Greene 238).
Furthermore, because of the technology available, conventional crimes have reduced greatly but not computer crimes. This can be attributed to the training provided in the policy academies. In these academies full training on computer crime and forensics is not provided and this has therefore led to inadequate knowledge and experience (Green 238). Furthermore, most criminal investigation agencies have little expertise in investigating and solving computer crime (McEwen 13). This inadequacy in knowledge and experience has made investigating and solving computer crimes difficult thereby leading to loss of much money.
The number of computer crimes occurring has been increasing as computer criminals become more sophisticated and the courts becoming very lenient. Many computer manufacturing companies are focusing on building faster and easy-to-use computers which are cost efficient thereby giving computer security lower priority (Clutterbuck 9). In addition, large organisations do not prosecute the fraudsters who are inside their company as they fear negative publication (Clutterbuck 9). This therefore does not prevent them from committing crime. In the United Kingdom, computer crime is reported to have go up by about 10% in 2007 as more than 3.5 million crimes majority of which are abusive email and fraud, were committed (Hughes).
In conclusion, from the way computer crimes are done and their effects to the victims, its quality is much different from other conventional crimes. Because of the quality difference they have become very difficult to investigate and solve. Furthermore, solving them requires a lot of money since it involves many disciplines. It requires the criminal investigation department, the computer forensics department, computer professionals and many others. Getting these disciplines to work together as one is a hard task and usually requires much financing. Computer crime is continuously growing as technology grows and therefore solving it will become difficult as time goes. However, to solve this crime, the skills involved in investigating and solving it need to evolve at the same rate as the computer technology advances. Furthermore, more people need to be trained and educated and their skills upgraded as the technology advances. To achieve all these much funding is required and still does not guarantee that computer crimes will reduce but it is a risk worth taking.
Word Count: 1982.
Clutterbuck Richard L. Terrorism, drugs, and crime in Europe: after 1992. Routledge: London. 1990. 9.
Eugene Ferraro and Norman Spain. Investigations in the Workplace. CRC Press: Boca Raton. 2006. 418-422.
Greene Jack R. The encyclopedia of police science. Edition: 3. CRC Press: Boca Raton. 2006. 238.
Hughes Emma. Computer crime soars in UK. 2008. Retrieved May 20, 2009 from http://www.theinquirer.net/inquirer/news/1015266/computer-related-crime-soars
McEwen Thomas, Dennis Fester and Hugh Nugent. Dedicated Computer Crime Units. DIANE: PA. 1989. 13.
Standler Ronald B. Computer crime. 2002. Retrieved May 20, 2009 from http://www.rbs2.com/ccrime.htm