CYBERCRIME AND CYBERCRIMINALS

​Cybercrime has many definitions (Wall 2001), and in recent years it has become synonymous with computer crime.  Technically, the definition of computer crime is any illegal act which involves knowledge of how to use a computer to offend.  Most definitions of cybercrime, by contrast, point to some “special knowledge” of cyberspace or “expert” use of a computer to offend.  Regardless of how special or expert some offenders are, it is customary today to just lump them all together as cybercriminals for ease of discussion.  Most observers agree it is the wave of the future, and it's here to stay.  With over one trillion dollars moved electronically every week, the Internet is where the money is.  The rates of cybercrime are skyrocketing.  The annual “take” by theft-oriented cybercriminals is estimated as high as $100 billion, and 97% of offenses go undetected (Bennett & Hess 2001).  Then, there are those who just abuse the Internet and computer systems — hackers or hooligans, whatever you want to call them — but cybercriminals nonetheless.  Their shenanigans cost an additional $104,000 per incident in damage, labor, and lost productivity (Brown et al. 2001).  In addition, there's corporate espionage (pdf), which some experts say is the real problem, with annual losses of proprietary information in the $40-60 million range.  Toss in organized crime, terrorism, piracy, fraud, embezzlement, extortion, predation, harassment, and a variety of other ways to offend or harm with computers, and it's anybody's guess what the real cost is.

Criminological theory is admittedly weak in this area.  There are things that are criminally wrong, deliberately wrong, accidentally wrong, wrong for all the right reasons, wrong for all the wrong reasons, and just plain annoying.  Legal systems everywhere are busy studying ways of passing new laws dealing with Internet misbehavior, so the arena has become a sort of “test-bed” or “mini-society” where all sorts of moral deconstruction and decoding goes on.  This ethereal realm we call CYBERSPACE is intriguing but full of potential dangers.  Barney (2000), for one, hopes that it will eventually be used to perfect democracy.  Others see it as offering little more than an underground economy and tempting addictions.  It is both a blessing and curse. Nobody has any good idea about how to regulate or police it.

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