As computer-related crimes become more prevalent, understanding the types of computer-related crimes provides law enforcement an insight for investigative strategies.
The first insight is knowing the types of computer crimes.
Computer as the Target
This computer crime includes theft of intellectual property. The offender accesses the operating program under the guise of the system’s manager. The intruder accesses the contents of computer files in the system through the trap door that permits access to systems should there be a human or technological problem.
Here, the offender uses the computer to obtain information or to damage operating programs while committing the following computer crimes:
- Theft of marketing information, like customer lists, pricing data, or marketing plans
- Blackmail based on information gained from computerized files, like the medical information, personal history, or sexual preference
- Sabotage of intellectual property, marketing, pricing, or personnel data
- Sabotage of operating systems and programs with the intent to impede a business or create chaos in a business operations
- Unlawful access to criminal justice and other government records
- Changing a criminal history, modifying want and warrant information
- Creating a driver’s license, passport, or another document for false identification
- Changing tax records or gaining access to intelligence files
- Techno-vandalism through unauthorized access to damage files or programs
- Techno-trespass violating the owner’s privacy as in criminal trespass
Computer as the Instrumentality of the Crime
Here, the processes of the computer facilitate the crime.
The computer criminal introduces a new code (programming instructions) to manipulate the computer’s analytical processes and for converting legitimate computer processes for the following illegitimate purposes:
- Fraudulent use of automated teller machine (ATM) cards and accounts
- Theft of money from accrual, conversion, or transfer accounts, credit card fraud, fraud from computer transactions like the stock transfers, sales, or billings and telecommunications fraud
- Billing charges to other customers through cellular phones
- Once they capture the computerized billing codes, the computer criminals program these codes into other cellular phones simply by hooking up the phone to a personal computer
- Using software originally developed by programmers in other countries they reprogram the signal chip in the cellular phone
- Share the same through underground computer bulletin board services (BBS)
Computer is incidental to other crimes
In this category of computer crime, the computer is not essential for the crime to occur.
In every following case, the systems merely facilitate the offenses:
- Helping the computer crime to occur faster
- Processing of greater amounts of information
- Making the computer crime more difficult to identify and trace
- Unlawful banking transactions and money laundering
- Supporting unlawful activity via BBSs
- Erasing or denying proper access of organized computer crime records or books, and bookmaking involving drug raids, money laundering seizures, and other arrests in encrypt the data or design
- Allowing computer criminals to destroy the storage media, such as disks, to eliminate evidence of their illegal activities
- Letting child pornographers exchange information through BBSs
These computer crimes require unique data recovery techniques in order to gain access to the evidence.
Computer Crimes Associated With the Prevalence of Computers
The presence of computers, and microcomputers, generates sinister mutations of the traditional crimes like the software piracy/counterfeiting, copyright violation of computer programs, counterfeit equipment, black market computer equipment and programs, and theft of technological equipment.
- Violation of copyright restrictions of commercial software can result in the staggering loss to businesses
- Hackers break into computers with the help of the software illegally written and sold
- Successful computer programs, like the word processing, spreadsheets, and databases are duplicated, packaged, and sold illegally on a large scale
- Just like the pirated audio and video tapes, counterfeit computers and peripherals (items such as modems and hard disks) are also manufactured and sold under the guise of originals
Legal Issues Of Computer Crimes
Some States have enacted laws specifically directed toward computer crimes, while other States rely fundamentally on the common law as it applies to current and emerging technology. The elements of a computer-related offense must be established for successful prosecution.
- The physical act of a computer crime, actus reus, may be demonstrated best by an electronic impulse
- It is difficult to define and track
- A computer crime can occur in 3 milliseconds using a program code that tells the software to erase itself after the computer executes the action eliminating the evidentiary trail
- Causation relates to the self-destruction of computer programs that facilitate computer crimes and an investigator can not show causation if the offender erases the executing instructions
- The electronic data interchange (EDI) and its networks complicate the legal elements by making computer crimes more difficult for law enforcement to specify, document, and materially link the crime to an individual
- The EDI connects parties via computer for contract negotiations, sales, collections, and other business transactions
- The computer becomes the vault, with the EDI serving as the key to its contents
- The ability to access data in the computer must be relatively easy in order to maximize business efficiency
- Security controls must be introduced in order to protect the business’ “crown jewels”
- Maximum security and easy accessibility are not compatible: As the businesses prefer user-friendly equipment, system security usually takes second priority
- The phenomenal growth of computer BBSs, on-line services, and the Internet only serves to compound the problem
As a result, computer-related crimes become easier to perpetrate and more difficult to identify, investigate, and prove.
Special Problems with Computer Crime
Intellectual property consists of concepts, ideas, planning documents, designs, formulas, and other information-based materials intended for products or services that have some commercial value or represent original thoughts or theses. Crimes associated with intellectual property focus primarily on theft when the product has commercial value, as opposed to basic research or research for private use.
- Involves formulas, processes, components, structure, characteristics, and applications of new technologies and covers such areas as fiber optics, computer chip designs and conductivity, and telecommunications equipment, protocols, and technologies
- Associated with the marketing and production of new technologies
- Pricing information, marketing targets, product release dates, and production timetables
Computer Crimes by Malfeasance
The concept of computer crimes by malfeasance means that computer-related behavior stretches the bounds of legality and may be viewed as only technically wrong.
Some of the scenarios of malfeasance computer crimes:
- A parent offers to copy a computer program for a school that cannot afford to buy the software
- An employee secretly maintains a small database in an office computer as part of a sideline business
- An individual uses someone else’s computer account number and password to view the contents of a database
- A customer gives her unlisted telephone number as part of a sales transaction at a store. The store enters the number into a computerized database and later sells the data to a telemarketing firm without the customer’s permission
- A university computer programmer develops a program to schedule classes as part of a job assignment. The programmer then accepts a job with another university and leaves with a copy of the program for use at the new place of employment
These computer crimes illustrate the gray areas of computer abuse, areas that fall increasingly on the shoulders of law enforcement to address and resolve.
Technological knowledge and expertise contribute to the growth of computer crime on an international level.
Businesses can make great use of the
- Unifying measures
- Open communications like the single, European-wide communication protocol
- Strong profit-oriented EU market spanning 12 countries
- Open borders
- Unification of technology standard
- Easier banking
- Monetary transfers between countries
Computer criminals are taking undue advantage of all these issues as:
- Emerging international crime-related issues
- Industrial espionage/competitive intelligence
- Economic/political espionage
- Expansion of international organized crime beyond traditional areas
- Theft of technological hardware
Computer criminals have adapted the advancements of computer technology to further their own illegal activities. Unfortunately, their actions have far out-paced the ability of police to respond effectively. Protocols must be developed for law enforcement to stall the various categories of computer crime. Investigators must know the materials to search and seize the electronic evidence to recover, and the chain of custody to maintain.
Data Triage Technologies Provides Comprehensive Computer Forensics, Electronic Discovery, Electronic Data Discovery, Data Recovery, Data Management, Intrusion Prevention, Network Security Audit, and Expert Witness Services to the legal communities in California and throughout the United States.
Author: Meshaal McLean
(Free initial consultation – no spam)
Contact form (1)
"*" indicates required fields