In today’s society our most valuable commodity is not grain, steel or eventechnology; it is information. Because of computer networks, just about everyonecan now access an astounding range of information. The Internet isinternational, even though 80 percent of the Internet use occurs in the UnitedStates, and a staggering amount of information on every subject imaginable isavailable for free.
Because so many people now have access, computer crimes havebecome more frequent. Everyone with a computer and a modem can commit a computercrime if so inclined. Anyone, conceivably, could become a “white collar”computer criminal. When the term “white collar” crime came into wide spreaduse several decades ago, it was thought that certain crimes were committed bypersons whom no one would normally suspect of criminal behavior: professional,“white collar” workers.
In the late 1990’s, however, the term “whitecollar” is somewhat inaccurate. The playing field has been leveled by thewidespread use of computers. Now “white collar crime” tends to mean simply“non violent crime” or “economic crime.” As technology becomesincreasingly accessible to more and more people, it also becomes a potentialtool for increasing numbers of criminals. Most computer crimes do not involveviolence but rather greed, pride, or play on some character weakness of thevictim. They are based on dishonesty and not force.
For these reasons, computercrimes are considered white collar. Just as the term “white collar crime”designates several kinds of crime, the term computer crime also designatedseveral types of crime. It includes crimes that are committed with a computer,crimes that occur in cyber space, and crimes committed against a computer. Someof the crimes are completely new; while others are older crimes that merely usethe computer as a tool.
The endless and constant growing variety of computercrimes makes it difficult to pass laws that adequately cover new computercrimes. Some crimes such as embezzlement, wire fraud, and forgery, are alreadycovered under existing law. Others, such as cyber vandalism, cyber terrorism,and cyber espionage, are relatively new. For these newer crimes, the letter ofthe existing law sometimes does not allow prosecution of what clearly iscriminal behavior. Employees and ex-employees of the victimized company commitmost “white collar crimes”.
Likewise about 75 to 80 percent of prosecutedcomputer crimes are committed by current or former employees. There are manydifferent kinds of computer crimes ranging from identity theft to sexualharassment to otherwise ordinary “white collar” crimes that happen toinvolve a computer. The most common form is online theft and fraud. Phreaks,crackers, and sometimes hackers illegally access and use voice mail, e-mail, andnetwork access accounts-which constitute toll fraud or wire fraud. Long distanceaccess codes are in great demand by the hackers, crackers, phone phreaks andstreet criminal.
Some cyber-criminals obtain the codes by “shoulder surfing”or looking over the shoulder of unwary people in phone booths. One reason thatthis is a common is a common form of crime among hackers and phone phreaks isbecause they tend to run up enormous phone bills pursuing their hobbies for 10– 12 hours a day. Others obtain the codes from “pirate” electronicbulletin boards, where they are posted in exchange for free software, creditcard numbers or other information. Software piracy is another growing andseemingly insurmountable problem. It is illegal under American Copyright Laws,but most software piracy actually takes place overseas. Federal copyright lawsare often insufficient even to prosecute United States citizens, as illustratedby the now famous case of David La Macchia.
La Macchia, a student atMassachusetts Institute of Technology, distributed free software through abulletin board service on a M.I.T computer. After a FBI probe La Macchia wasindited on 1994 for conspiracy to committee fraud. The software he offeredreportedly had a total value of over one million dollars, but La Macchia arguedthat he had not distributed the software for financial gain and therefore couldnot have violated the federal copyright laws.
The case was dismissed. One of themost freighting computer crimes is identity theft. This kind of fraud is mucheasier than it was once, because a wealth of personnel information is availableonline for free, and even more personal information is available for a smallfee. Now that drivers license numbers are also stored on computers, which a reusually part of a larger network, a persons physical characteristics-eye color,height, and persons physical characteristics-are also available.
Magnetic stripson credit cards and ATM cards require computers to read them and to keep recordsof the millions of transactions made ever day. Like identity theft, some othercomputer crimes are not new, except that the perpetrator now uses computer tocommit them. For example, money laundering has been committed for many decades.But a money laundered using a computer is able to carry out the crime much morequickly6 and efficiently, just as computers enable legitimate workers to fortheir jobs more quickly and efficiently. There are several forms of computercriminals; the term “hacker” describes a person extremely adept and cleverat programming.
The term later came to mean a person adept to “cracking” newsystems undetected. Hackers are merely curious but can unintentionally causeconsiderable damage. But the quest for information and learning-not revenge ormaliciousness-is what drives most hackers to pursue their hobby so relentlessly.“Crackers”, on the other hand, are malicious hackers. They break intosystems to vandalize, plant viruses and worms, delete files, or wreak some otherkind of havoc.
Embezzlement, fraud, or industrial espionage is just a few of thecrackers possible objectives. Cyber espionage exists between countries as wellas between companies, so it poses a danger to our national security. There is nodisputing that what crackers do is dangerous as well as illegal. Another form ofcomputer crime is perpetrated by “phone phreaks.” Instead of accessingcomputer systems phreaks explore the cyber world through phone lines. Phreakswere among the earliest forms of hackers, operating as early as the 1970’s.
Oneincident caused by phreaks, involved the New York City Police Department.Phreaks broke into the NYPD’s phone system and changed the taped message thatgreeted callers. The new message said, ”officers are too busy eating doughnutsand drinking coffee to answer the phones.” It directed callers to dial 119 inan emergency. The enormous range of computer crimes means that all of societyshould be concerned about computer security, regardless of our individual levelof computer expertise. World financial systems rely heavily on computers, as donational defenses, private businesses, and increasingly, personalcorrespondence.
” We are all users,” in the words of Buck Bloonbecker,whether or not we actually use computers, because we all rely on them. We mustnot view computer crime as an exotic activity. To do so would prevent us fromseeing that it endangers each one of us.