Computer Crime Essay, Research Paper
The technological revolution has taken full swing . If a business doesn’t have some form of e-commerce, or if a person does not have some form of an e-mail address, they are seen as living in the stone age. This new world of virtual life, where with the click of a button a person can travel millions of miles in a few seconds, millions of new opportunities have arisen. However, someone has to always ruin the good things in life. Very similar to Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter,” where the second thing built in a Utopia was a prison, the advent of computer crime is only becoming more prevelant everyday. The whole idea of a computer crime is rather absurd indeed. Really, who wants to go around spray painting on computers anyway? Though the definition of computer crime varies from source to source, the most common being,” any illegal act which oinvolves a computer system” ( “What is a computer…” p.1). This holds true even if the computer contains something as simple as a threatening e-mail. Computer crime in nature ranges from relatively small things such as software piracy to magnificent crimes like fraud.
Computer crime itself has metamorphasized from its mere infancy. In the late 1970’s, a would-be criminal would need direct access to the actual computer terminal. This is because the most computer crime of that time actually involved hardware sabotage and theft, rather than a more software oriented problem. In the late 1970s and early to mid 1980s, computer crime had elevated a notch with the advent of the inter-schiool network. This network was a connection of several major universities through modem lines. Educated computer users were now changing each others ideas and information, but not for the malicious, but instead for the better. The mid to late 1980s saw the rise of computer “hackers” such as Kevin Mitnick. kevin Mitnick was caught at least a half dozen times, with the charges ranging from criminal tresspassing to fraud. Mitnick had broken into several corporations’ servers,n one being the well reknowned Sun Microsystems. When he was arrested Mitnick became a martyr and a heron to many teenage computer enthusiasts. These teens would be determined to carry on the symbolic spirit, or what they thought to be, of Kevin Mitnick. However, the computer crimes that thses users perpatrate cost small businesses and corporations millions each year, put restraints on legitimate computer users and still remain an extremely dangerous, costly and virtually unstoppable crime. (”A Brief History of…” p.2)
Information technologies (IT) specialists walk into work almost every morning only to find one of their servers on the fritz. Now, these problems can arise for several different reasons, ranging from security breeches to mere software conflicts. However, businesses report losses ranging from $5 to $40 billion each year. The causes for these losses range from having to hire new IT and IS (information systems) specialists to fix a problem, to theft of product and software piracy. Software piracy is by far the largest problem. (”Latest Web Statistics” p.2)
An IT specialist’s worst nightmare is a renegade “hacker” loose in the system. “Hacker” is a slang name given to a person who has knowledge enough to compromise the security of a system. Although less than 11% of all complaints filed in 1998 were of hacking, the extreme danger of a hacker still remains. Hackers possess the powers to compromise valuable system security features and possibly destroy or alter any data that they have access to. In the year 2000, a projected 773 complaints will be filed in which at least 10% will be of hacking (”Latest Web Statistics” p.1). However, a hacker may only affect a company with internet access, unless of course, they work for the company.
Corporate employees would be the least expected people that would harm an employer’s network or systems. The truth behind this is, that in fact most security breeches that occur, happen because of curious enmployees “just looking around.”
Many of these employees do not cause any real harm to anything at all. It just seems that curiosity gets the best of them and they just have to look. However, there are cases where a disgruntled employee will take his/her frustrations and anger out on the corporation or business’s network. At the event that this should happen, the IT department has a very serious problem indeed. This is such a major problem because an employee’s access, in some networking architectures, goes unnoticed and therefore unchecked. The idea of almost entirely unchecked access makes an angered employee a hundred times worse than any would-be “hacker,” which gives employers all the more reason to be nice to everyone, because they never know when someone could rip down there multi-thousand dollar network. The cost of these in-network security breeches and other crimes costs businesses an estimated $3 billion. (Coutourie p. 1)
With the advent of both “hackers” and disgruntled corporate members, corporations dread everyday. Computer criminals see these large corporations as a prime target because less than 2% of reports lead to convictions. Companies lost “roughly” $2 billion in revenues due to software piracy, much of which was stolen through the internet. Companies such as Sun Microsystems, have had prototype plans and such stolen from them and sold to the competition. Many companies are now hiring convicted computer criminals, and many are paid to bring down the systems of the compettition. (”Latest Web Statistics” p.2)
To fight back corporations can only try to prevent such attacks. Using operating system security featurers, especially with the Novell system, corporations can invoke some control over what happens in their network. Many software manufacturers, such as Norton, make network utility suites that maintain and manage a network, constantly keeping a watchful eye over the precious network.
These computer criminals cause terrible problems for legitimate users. “Hackers” and “crackers” are the reason for the numerous raids on bulletin board systems and their operators. The old saying is that possession is nine tenths of the law, taking that into consideration, most bulletin board owner/ operators, especially those that are members of the “Underground,” are guilty of software piracy as well as several other crimes. This is because hackers often store their stolen information on another public server, and bulletin boards are the perfect target. These computers are massive in power, in size and are definately capable of storing and processing the thousands of requests to download the stolen material.
Despite the seemingly negative nature of these bulletin boards, they are the backbone of the internet. Many of the thousands that are out there, exist with no real malicious intent. However, the federasl government has found it necessary to cerack down on almost all bulletin board systems, by issuing search and siezure warrants. In March of 1990, the 2 year governtment investigation called Operation Sun Devil, executed 27 search warrants (Sulski p.1). Equipped with these sources of power, Federal agents storm homes and sieze only computer- related equipment. All of this is so that the system can be analyzed under the virtual microscope of more federal agents. Because of these siezures, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) was formed to protect the 1st Amendment rights of legitimate computer users (Sulski p.4).
Hackers do more than just cause bulletin boards to be raided, but they cause the restriction of access to normal users. Information that would normally be readily available for the public eye, is now locked tightly behind some virtual door, never to be seen again. All these security measures are a result of fear. The fear that only “hackers” can create. These criminals make people afraid of everything that they could say. Shipping addresses and phone numbers cannot be given over the internet for fear that some rogue hacker will steal them and use the new-found information for some malicious purpose. Just like anything, companies must play on the fear of inexperienced users, making them the true fools. They sell programs that are no more recent than 1 year behind the “average hacker” pace, and consumers buy it up thinking that somehow it may protect them and make everything safe and secure. This isn’t the case by far, and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, are spent each year on useless software.
To understand how a “hacker” can compromise a system, one must know how and why. Through all the stories told about these Jesse Jamess of the computer world, it is hard to differentiate what a hacker is and what a hacker does. A hacker is no more than a computer punk. Soemtimes smart and intelligent a hacker does no more than compromise a system because they feel they should have free access to ALL data. These usually experienced users often break into systems, steal data and often will destroy data. Recent years have brought utilities and tools to make hacking a point and click event. The essentials of hacking are still baseed around a few norms. Hackers must have a computer and a modem. This is it! “Working with less than $300 worth of equipment” hackers sasyt hey can break into systems, snoop through files and make long distance calls and bill them to your own home (Corr p.1). With no more than a computer and a modem , a hacker could be an individual or company’s worse nightmare. By using methods which won’t be named in this paper, hackers can use valid username and passwords to access, often times, restricted or hidden information. In this manner a hacker can take anything from simpl,e programs to entire identities.
With all this power, it is a wonder that hackers don’t get a “God complex.” To be honest, many do. Many hackers will elevate their crimes, each one growing more and more severe and equally as challenging. The question still remains, are there any real ethics, a set of rules that these renegades abide by? The answer for those that consider themselves “true hackers” is yes. Many of these hackers believe that there are 5 real rules as follows:
1. Never damage any system
2. Never alter any system files aside from logs.
3. Never leave your handle (screen name) on computers you hack.
4. Do NOT hack government computers.
5. Be paranoid.
(Revelation p.4) Hackers have to live by the 5 rules above, if they don’t, their lives as they know it could result in 5 – 15 years in a lovely state or federal prison. All five of these rules are all preventive maintenenvce type things that will prevent the arrest of hackers. The general public wonders that if so much information is available, why aren’t any of these characters arrested? Well the answer is because there is no proof of wrongdoing. Mere text files that explain what hackers do, how they do it, and how to do it without getting caught are not criminal in nature.
Now seeing that hackers obviously do have a set of standards and rules, why does the federal government spread the fears they do and why does Hollywood glorify hacking the way it does? Well the answers are often unclear. The federal government, just like anyone else, is afraid of what it does not understand. Hollywood seems to glorify it, just for the simple reason that it is a major part of pop-culture and it has no idea what it is talking about. Movies such as “Hackers,” “The Net,” and “Mission Impossible” are all perfect examples of inaccuracy blown to a whole other proportion. The movie “Hackers” angered some many “true hackers” with its inaccuracy that the web site that supported the movie and advertised was defaced horribly on several occassions. In fact, in Hollywood it is hard to find even a valid looking e-mail program in a movie!
To fight back against these hackers corporations have devised several schemes. Many have invested thousands into new security features for there systems. Where many have beefed up security systems, many corporations have beefed up there legal teams. These legal teams are on the look-out for anyone who can be seen as a computer criminal perpetrating crimes against a company. These head hunters are the cause for, often times, the wrongful convictions of users. In fact, these legal teams had Kevin Mitnick jailed for 3 years before he was even allowed to see the evidence against him. Since this is the electronic age, all the evidence against him was on electronic media, and being that he was not allowed to use any form of computer, Mitnick was not allowed to view any of this evidence. Whether right or wrong, corporations will spare no expense in protecting their investments, and noone can really blam e them either.
The federal and state governments have also taken actions against hackers; however, the governments have the upper-hand in these battles. With the power to pass laws and restrict all sorts of access, the federal government has decided to bully all computer users by restricting access to certain information and other perhaps questionable items. In fact, Congress has had a bill recently proposed that would make it a crime to publish any unauthorized information on narcotics, especially marijuana. Is this right? Of course not! This itself is a direct violation of the 1st Amendment rights of everyone who would like to publish information on this topic. This is exactly the type of action the federal government took with the Communications Decency Act, which was later declared unconstitutional on June 26, 1997. This act made it illegal, as do several other laws, to send malicious or threatening information over the internet. There was a case where a gentleman had written a story to post on a BBS (bulletin board system) that depicted sick and disgusting sexual acts and mutalation. This in itslefv is not worng, but he used a fellow classmate’s name and the story was seen as malicious and violent. The whole ordeal was misconstrewed and it was made to believe that this gentleman had every intent on harming and injuring his classmate. The gentleman was convicted of sending threats across state lines and has just recently been released of his lovely stay in federal prison.
However, the Communications Decency Act was not the first attempt of the Federal Government to regulate telecommunications. In fact, the Communications Act of 1934 was passed and was the first attempt to regulate telecommunications at the federal level. The federal government isn’t the only one getting in on the act, state governments are no better. Many states have initiated there own communications laws banning the obvious, things such as breaking into systems, etc., But also regulate the type of data and information that can be sent across state lines. Many of these laws have clauses that make a user not only prosecutable by federal laws, but also by state laws.
Many question the fairness of it all. Is it really right to try to regulate the American public like this? No it really isn’t. However, the federal and state governments are trying to protect their backers, large corporations and businesses. To regulate speech and information, that is unconstitutional and should be dealt with in that manner.
So the question remains, what is the proper way to deal with computer crime? Is it to take the world off of phone lines and the internet? The answer to that is obviously no. The internet is the fastest growing phenom in the world today, and the end does not appear to be coming any time soon. Then is the answer to be harsher and more strict with the way we punish computer criminals? No, we as a society can’t be any more harsh. There are computer criminals that will spend more time in jail thatn most convicted murderes and rapists. Kevin Mitnick has received a 35 year sentence for the crimes he perpetrated, as well as millions in restitution. Where as a person convicted of manslaughter has a maximum term of 15 years. In most cases this person can be peroled after 5. Is that fair? No. The real solution is that there is no real solution. The economy is up, and litlle kids still haven’t stopped stealing bubble gum. The problem is that we have a group of millions that feel that all information and all data should be free to anyone who can use it, and perhaps in this manner, society can improve everything together. On the other side, we have corporations and businesses fighting to make their deserved dollars. They see things that if they just give their information away, can they really make any money? Computer crime is here to stay and almost doubles each year. The only solution for those corporate entities is to stay away from your main servers being on the internet. Many projects do not require ther internet, so why have that information tied to it at all? There is no reason. Corporations can onmly try to keep their vital information away from the internet and try to beef up their security features. No matter what actions people take to protect themselves, there will always be at least one, one that will break that barrier and crumble the walls that are your blanket of security.
“A Brief History of Hackerdom.” Hacing History. Online. Available
http://www.thefuturesite.com/catman/history. 11 Jan.1999.
Corr, O. Casey. “Electronic Burglars Can Get Your Number.” The Seattle Times Sept. 8, 1991: A1. Technology. Art. 72. SIRS Researcher. CD-ROM.
Coutourie, Larry. “The Computer Criminal- An Investigative Assessment.” FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin Sept. 1989: 18-22. Corrections. Art. 38. SIRS Researcher. CD-ROM.
“Latest Web Statistics.” Latest Web Statistics. Online. Available http://www.intergov.org/public_administration/information/. 16 Dec. 1999.
Revelation. “The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Hacking and Phreaking.” LOA’s Homesite. 8 April 1996. Online. Available http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/Square/5464/. 11 Jan. 1999.
Sulski, Jim. “Crackdown on Crime is Raising Question of Computer Rights.” Chicago Tribune Nov.18, 1990: Sec. 19, 17-18. Crime. Art. 53. SIRS Researcher.
“What is a Computer and Telecommunication Crime?” Computer Crime. Online. Available http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/html/cpu-cri.htm. 16 Dec. 1999.
Working Outline and Thesis statement
Thesis: Computer crime costs small businesses and corporations millions each year, puts restraints on legitimate computer users and still remains an almost unstoppable crime.
Topic: Computer Crime
A. Definition of a computer crime
B. Brief background of the history of computer crime.
1. what computer crime originally was
2. what computer crime has become
3. definition of a “hacker”
C. Thesis: Computer crime costs small businesses and corporations millions each year, puts restraints on legitimate computer users and still remains an almost unstoppable crime.
II The cost of computer crime on corporations
A. Description of how corporations are affected .
1. the affect of “hackers”
2. statistics of the effects of “hackers”
3. the affect of corporate employees
4. statistics of the effects of corporate employees
B. How computer crimes can cripple businesses
1. the selling and/or discovery of prototype plans
2. examples of the latter
a. Kevin Mitnick
C. How corporations fight back.
1. preventive maintenence
2. system security
III How computer crimes affect legitimate computer users
A. Causes restrictions on legitimate activities.
1. federal raids of bulletin board systems and operators
B. Restricts access to systems that may otherwise be made available.
C. Spreads a certain fear amongst computer users.
1. marketing ploys playing on these fears
IV The unstoppable criminals
A. The activities of “hackers.”
1. methods used
2. ethics of “hackers”
B. Corporate actions taken.
C. The actions of the federal and state governments.
1. passage of laws
2. how these laws violate individual rights
A. Show an example of the alternative computer community.
B. Summarization of thesis statement.
C. Give possible solutions based on the evidence provided.