Cybercrime is a criminal act using a computer that occurs over the Internet. The Internet has become the source for multiple types of crime and different ways to perform these crimes. The types of cybercrime may be loosely grouped into three categories of cybercrimes. First, the Internet allows for the creation and maintenance of cybercrime markets. Second, the Internet provides a venue for fraudulent behavior (i.e., cyberfraud). Third, the Internet has become a place for the development of cybercriminal communities.
- I. Introduction
- II. Cybercrime Markets
- III. Cyberfraud
- IV. Cybercrime Communities
- V. Criminal Justice Response to Cybercrime
Computer crime has been an issue in criminal justice and criminology since the 1970s. In this venue, the types of computer crimes have been categorized in two ways. First, a prevalent activity is that of criminals stealing computers. Second, criminals use computers to commit crimes. The recent development of the Internet has created a substantial increase in criminals using computers to commit crimes. Thus, an emerging area of criminal behavior is cybercrime.
Cybercrime is a criminal act using a computer that occurs over the Internet. The Internet has become the source for multiple types of crime and different ways to perform these crimes. The types of cybercrime may be loosely grouped into three categories of cybercrimes. First, the Internet allows for the creation and maintenance of cybercrime markets. Second, the Internet provides a venue for fraudulent behavior (i.e., cyberfraud). Third, the Internet has become a place for the development of cybercriminal communities. The purpose of this research paper is to outline and exemplify these different forms of communities. The research paper then shifts into a discussion of policy steps to reduce some forms of cybercrime.
II. Cybercrime Markets
The Internet allows for illicit markets to be created and maintained. The Internet provides its users with an opportunity to hide their identities and to be in remote locations to create and be part of illicit markets. For instance, cybercriminals can use different Web sites to trade (i.e., buy or sell) merchandise illegally through legitimate sources (e.g., eBay) or through illegal sites. Some of theseWeb sites are not able to be traced back to their original sources. While a host of illicit markets exists (e.g., illegal adoptions, surrogate mothers, egg donors, obtaining banned substances, organ donors thieves, forbidden animals, endangered species, and illegal gambling), four markets will be discussed here.
One of the most pervasive forms of cybercrime is digital piracy (Gopal, Sanders, Bhattacharjee, Agrawal, & Wagner, 2004). Digital piracy is defined as the illegal act of copying digital goods, software, digital documents, digital audio (including music and voice), and digital video for any reason without explicit permission from and compensation to the copyright holder (Gopal et al., 2004; Higgins, Fell, &Wilson, 2006). The Internet has facilitated an increase in digital piracy in recent years. Wall (2005) notes four characteristics of the Internet that have enabled individuals to easily commit criminal activity: It allows anonymous communication, it is transnational, it has created a shift in thinking from the ownership of physical property to the ownership of ideas, and it is relatively easy. In addition, Wall contends that the Internet facilitates piracy because it allows the offense to take place detached from the copyright holder, which provides the offender with the perception that the act is victimless.
Several researchers have acknowledged subforms of digital piracy (i.e., audio and video piracy) as being increasingly pervasive (Gopal et al., 2004; Hinduja, 2003). Higgins et al. (2006) defined audio and video piracy as the “illegal act of uploading or downloading digital sound or video without explicit permission from and compensation to the copyright holder” (p. 4). Technological advancements are partly responsible for the increased ease and accessibility of digital piracy. The International Federation of Phonographic Industries (IFPI) (2006) estimates that one in three music discs purchased around the world is an illegal copy. The IFPI further estimates that 37% of all CDs purchased in 2005 were pirated, resulting in 1.2 billion illegal copies purchased worldwide. In fact, the IFPI concludes that pirate CD sales outnumbered legitimate CD sales in 30 markets across the world and resulted in a loss of $4.5 billion from the music industry.
Similar issues take place in the context of the movie industry. To be clear, industry figures indicate that the costs of unauthorized copying and redistribution of movies via physical media (e.g., video cassettes, DVDs, VCDs, etc.) exceed several billion dollars annually. In 2005, the Motion Picture Association of American (MPAA) reported that over 90% of the movies that are initially pirated are due to the use of camcording in movie theaters. The Internet has allowed movie pirates to be able to illegally download movies (MPAA, 2004). In 2004, the MPAA reported that $2.3 billion were lost due to Internet piracy.
Several researchers have argued that college students are likely to pirate almost all forms of digital media (Hinduja, 2003; Higgins et al., 2006). This includes software piracy. According to the Business Software Alliance (BSA, 2007), the trend of piracy among college students has been going up slightly compared to 2003 and 2005 rates. Importantly, two thirds of the students surveyed still believe that it is okay to swap or illegally download software without paying for it (BSA, 2007).
Since the Copyright Act of 1976, digital piracy has been a criminal act (Higgins et al., 2006). Mass copyright violations of movies and music were made a felony offense in 1982 by the Piracy and Counterfeiting Amendments Act, which was amended to include the distribution of copyrighted materials over the Internet via the No Electronic Theft Act (Koen & Im, 1997). That is, when an individual proceeds to burn an extra copy of a music CD, download music from the Internet without paying, or use a peer-to-peer network to download music information, he or she is pirating music. This is especially true for digital music piracy that is committed through a multitude of modi operandi (e.g., CD burning, peer-to-peer networks, LAN file sharing, digital stream ripping, and mobile piracy [see http://www.IFPI.org for a discussion of these techniques]). The penalties for these acts may be civil (e.g., $10,000 per pirated copy) as well as criminal (e.g., possible jail sentences) (Koen & Im, 1997).
Cybercrime includes the promotion and the distribution of pornography. When done over the Internet, this is known as cyberpornography. While viewing pornography may not be criminal for those who are of age, the Internet does not discriminate based on age. That is, teenagers’ fantasies about nudity may easily be replaced by hardcore pornographic images of every conceivable sexual activity.
In the academic literature, some researchers have shown that access to and viewing of cyberpornography is a behavior that is increasing. Ybarra and Mitchell (2005) used data from kids and young adults to examine exposure to cyberpornography. They showed that individuals that sought out cyberpornography were likely to be male, 14 years old and older, and more depressed, whereas those younger than 14 were more likely to be exposed to pornography through traditional means—movies and magazines.
Others have shown that cyberpornography is not just for teenagers, making the behavior non–age specific. Stack, Wasserman, and Kern (2004) used the General Social Science Survey to examine who viewed pornography using the Internet and the reasons why. They showed that individuals that had weak religious ties, unhappy marriages, and past sexual deviance are more likely to view pornography via the Internet. Buzzell (2005) examined the factors that influence access to cyberpornography. The study showed that when employment status increases, technology does play a role in the access to cyberpornography.
The Internet allows cybercriminals to participate in underage liaisons. One form of this particular type of cybercrime is the online solicitation of children for sex. This is exploitation that involves an adult who engages in discussion with a child online and uses his or her manipulation skills to coerce the child to meet in person for sexual purposes. Importantly, the number of children that are approached on the Internet for these types of offenses is staggering. Finkelhor, Mitchell, and Wolak (2000) showed that 1 out of every 5 youths is solicited by someone online for sexual relations.
The anonymity of the Internet allows cybercriminals to disguise their postings, responses, and identities. This affords the cybercriminals the opportunity to disappear at a moment’s notice. In short, the Internet allows cybercrimes to be performed more easily and simply while making criminals’ detection, apprehension, and prosecution more difficult. Therefore, the Internet makes cybercrimes through illicit markets more difficult to examine.