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Essay/Term paper: Computer crime: a increasing problem

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Information Technology

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Computer Crime: A Increasing Problem


Computer crimes seem to be an increasing problem in today's society. The main
aspect concerning these offenses is information gained or lost. As our
government tries to take control of the information that travels through the
digital world, and across networks such as the InterNet, they also seem to be
taking away certain rights and privileges that come with these technological

These services open a whole new doorway to communications as we know it. They
offer freedom of expression, and at the same time, freedom of privacy in the
highest possible form. Can the government reduce computer crimes, and still
allow people the right to freedom of expression and privacy?


In the past decade, computer technology has expanded at an incredibly fast rate,
and the information stored on these computers has been increasing even faster.
The amount of money, military intelligence, and personal information stored on
computers has increased far beyond expectations. Governments, the military, and
the economy could not operate without the use of computers. Banks transfer
trillions of dollars every day over inter-linking networks, and more than one
billion pieces of electronic mail are passed through the world's networks daily.
It is the age of the computer network, the largest of which is known as the
InterNet. A complex web of communications inter-linking millions of computers
together -- and this number is at least doubling every year. The computer was
originally designed as a scientific and mathematical tool, to aid in performing
intense and precise calculations. However, from the large, sixty square foot
ENIAC (Electronical Numerical Integrator and Calculator) of 1946, to the three
square foot IBM PC of today, their uses have mutated and expanded far beyond
this boundary. Their almost infinite capacity and lightning speed, which is
increasing annually, and their low cost, which is decreasing annually, has
allowed computers to stabilize at a more personal level, yet retain their
position in mathematical and scientific research1 . They are now being used in
almost every aspect of life, as we know it, today. The greatest effect of
computers on life at this present time seems to be the InterNet. What we know
now as the InterNet began in 1969 as a network then named ArpaNet. ArpaNet,
under control by the pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, was
first introduced as an answer to a problem concerning the government question of
how they would communicate during war. They needed a network with no central
authority, unlike those subsequent to this project. A main computer controlling
the network would definitely be an immediate target for enemies. The first test
node of ArpaNet was installed at UCLA in the Fall of 1969. By December of the
same year, three more nodes were added, and within two years, there was a total
of fifteen nodes within the system. However, by this time, something seemed to
be changing concerning the information traveling across the nodes. By 1971,
government employees began to obtain their own personal mail addresses, and the
main traffic over the net shifted from scientific information to personal mail
and gossip. Mailing lists were used to send mass quantities of mail to hundreds
of people, and the first newsgroup was created for discussing views and opinions
in the science fiction world. The networks decentralized structure made the
addition of more machines, and the use of different types of machines very
simple. As computer technology increased, interest in ArpaNet seemed only to

In 1977, a new method of transmission was put into effect, called TCP/IP. The
transmission control protocol (TCP) would convert messages into smaller packets
of information at their source, then reassemble them at their destination, while
the InterNet protocol (IP) would control the addressing of these packets to
assure their transmission to their correct destinations. This newer method of
transmission was much more efficient then the previous network control protocol
(NCP), and became very popular. Corporations such as IBM and DEC began to
develop TCP/IP software for numerous different platforms, and the demand for
such software grew rapidly. This availability of software allowed more
corporations and businesses to join the network very easily, and by 1985,
ArpaNet was only a tiny portion of the newly created InterNet. Other smaller
networks are also very widely used today, such as FidoNet. These networks serve
the same purpose as the InterNet, but are on a much smaller scale, as they have
less efficient means of transferring message packets. They are more localized,
in the sense that the information travels much more slowly when further
distances are involved. However, the ease of access to these networks and
various computers has allowed computer crimes to increase to a much higher scale.
These computers and networks store and transfer one thing -- information. The
problem occurs when we want to determine the value of such information.
Information lacks physical properties, and this intangible aspect of data
creates problems when developing laws to protect it. The structure of our
current legal system has, to this point, been based on ascertainable limits.
Physical properties have always been at its main core2 . In the past, this
information, or data, has been 'converted' into tangible form to accommodate our
system. A prime example is the patent, which is written out on paper. Today,
however, it is becoming much more difficult to 'convert' this data into a
physical form, as the quantity is increasing so rapidly, and this quantity of
information is being stored in a virtual, digitized space3 . It is very
important to realize and emphasize that computers and networks store and
transfer only information, and that most all of this information can be altered,
in some way, undetectably. For example, when a file is stored in the popular
DOS environment (and also in environments such as Windows, OS/2, and in similar
ways, UNIX), it is also stored with the date, time, size, and four attributes --
read-only, system, hidden, and archive. One may consider checking the date at
which the document, or information stored on the computer, was saved to
determine if it was modified. However, this is also digital information, and
easily changed to whatever date or time the operator prefers. One may also
consider the attributes stored with the file. If a file is flagged as 'read-
only,' then perhaps it cannot be overwritten. This is surely the case --
however, this attribute is easily turned off and on, as it is also information
in a digitized sense, and therefore very easily changed. This is the same case
when a file is 'hidden'. It may very well be hidden to the novice user, but it
is easily seen to anyone who has even a slight knowledge of the commands of the
system. One may also consider moving this information to a floppy disk in order
to preserve its originality; but we are once again giving it a physical aspect,
which we earlier addressed as being a close to impossible task when involved
with the amount of information involved in this area today. Digital information
is infinitely mutable, and the information that protects this information is
infinitely mutable4 . In order to understand how to control this information, we
must first understand what information and it's value -- especially that of a
digital nature -- is. One cannot specifically define information in a whole.
In today's society, 'knowledge is power' seems to be a common phrase, and a
quite true one. It would be even more true to say 'knowledge can be power.'
It's how we use this knowledge that determines it's power. In the same sense,
it is how we use and distribute this knowledge that determines it's value.
Information can be used in so many ways that it is virtually impossible to value
it. What information is of value to one person may be completely worthless to
another. The availability of this knowledge also determines it's worth. If
information is as free as air, it has virtually no worth5 . Therefore, it is
also a privacy issue. We can now base the value of information on three things:
it's availability, it's use, and it's user.

In order to protect information in our current government, we must first value
it. Those three aspects of information can be so differentiated, that this is
close to impossible to do so. In addition to this, how do we determine who
"owns" the information? Information itself is not a physical thing which only
one person has in their possession at any time. If information is given away,
it is still held by the giver, as well as the taker. It is impossible to
determine exactly who has this information. If someone steals information, we
cannot take it away from them -- it is intangible in almost every aspect. We
must also understand the way in which our government, and most governments,
create laws and attempt to desist illegal actions. As stated earlier, the
American government, and many other governments, are based on a physical center,
which I exemplified with the case of the US patent. When our government creates
laws, the subjects of the laws are given a definable, ascertainable limit. When
someone commits grand theft auto, breaking and entering, or murder, we
understand what has occurred and have definite ways to prove what has occurred,
where and when it has occurred, how it has occurred, and, if applicable, what
has been harmed and what is its value. However, when we look at computer crimes,
such as unauthorized access, we cannot be as clear on these aspects, and we do
not have definite ways to prove the crime, or who committed it, nor do we have a
way in which to define the value of anything damaged, if it had even been
damaged. It is hard to convict a person when all they did was slow down a
computer network for a few days, or look at a credit profile on John Doe.
Problems also occur because people, including those in the legal profession as
well as jurors, do not always understand technology. They do not always
understand how mutable digital information can be, and how easily accessible and
distributed it can be. When a jury does not understand, one cannot truly be
declared guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt". "Technically, I didn't commit a
crime. All I did was destroy data. I didn't steal anything.6 " How can this
be argued? Crimes committed in the computer world do not exactly adhere with
current laws that address physical crimes. We cannot adapt current laws to
those involving information crimes, and trying to do that will cause too many
problems and confusions because of the variety, extent, and value of information
as a whole. However, this is exactly what the government is trying to do. It
must also be considered that this information is not strictly a US problem, nor
is it more geared towards the US. Although started by the United States
government, the InterNet has grown world wide, reaching over seventy countries.
Since the InterNet has such a decentralized structure, one cannot say that the
US is "in charge" of the network. The problem is, the US government does not see
this themselves. The United States government wants to censor the information
traveling across the InterNet and other telecommunication services, but this
cannot be the case any longer because of this situation. We cannot expect other
countries to adhere to the laws of the United States, just as most Americans
would not expect to have to agree to laws set by other countries. Therefore, it
could be easily said that the government would be invading privacy if they were
to attempt to censor the information which travels these networks. Individual
computers, are, of course, an individuals property, and it would, without a
doubt, be an invasion of privacy if the government wanted to, at any given time,
search your hard drive without just cause. I feel that the government wants too
much power this time. It would seem that they want to have access to and
control all digital information in America for their own benefit. The US
government created an encryption device called the Clipper chip, which was to
insure digital privacy among it's users. However, our government seems to only
define privacy to an extent. They had also planned to keep, in their possession,
a duplicate of each chip. So much for total privacy. The government seems to
be on a quest for total control over it's citizens, and the citizens of the
world. This may seem extreme at the present time, but our current legal system
does not allow for the undefinable limits that information control presents,
especially on a world wide basis. If the government tries to gain too much
control, it could very well lead to it's failure. Control -- the control we need
-- is not a legal problem at all. It is a social, moral, and technological
problem7 . What is needed is a type of 'information ethics'. A set of morals
and customs must be slowly adapted, and not pounded into the digital world by
the government. Virtual laws must be formed by a virtual government.
Information cannot be controlled by our government in it's current form. In
order to control information, the government would have to induce a drastic
change. The first amendment, in reality, is the foundation of the rights of the
citizens of this country. This amendment, in it's most basic form, guarantees
our right to inform and be informed. The government can not and will not be
able to control digital information as a whole, or govern the right to this
information without sacrificing the keystone of our nation and of our rights as

1 We see about 50-70% more computing power per year, and hardware prices drop
about 25-50% per year. Since 1978, raw computing power has increased by over
500 times. "80x86 Evolution," Byte, June 1994, pp. 19. 2 Curtis E.A. Karnow,
Recombinant Culture: Crime In The Digital Network. (Speech, Defcon II, Los
Vegas), 1994.

3 S. Zuboff, In the Age of the Smart Machine, New York; 1992.Michael Gemignani,
Viruses And Criminal Law. Reprinted in Lance Hoffman, Rogue Programs: Viruses,
Worms and Trojan Horses, New York, 1990.4 Lauren Wiener, Digital Woes, 1993.5
John Perry Barlow, "The Economy of Ideas", Wired, March 1994.6 Martin Sprouse,
"Sabotage in the American Workplace: Anecdotes of Dissatisfaction, Mischief, and
Revenge", New York; 1992. (Bank of America Employee who planted a logic bomb in
the company computer system).

7 Curtis E.A. Karnow, Recombinant Culture: Crime In The Digital Network.
(Speech, Defcon II, Los Vegas), 1994.

Works Cited

Addison-Wesley, Bernard. How the Internet Came to Be. New York: Vinton
Cerf, 1993.

Communications Decency Act. Enacted by the U.S. Congress on February 1,

Computer Fraud and Abuse Statute. Section 1030: Fraud and related activity
in connection with computers.

Denning, Dorothy. "Concerning Hackers Who Break into Computer Systems".
Speech presented at the 13th National Computer Security Conference,
Washington, DC, 1990.

Gates, Bill. The Road Ahead. New York: Penguin Books USA, inc, 1995.

The Gatsby. "A Hackers Guide to the Internet". Phrack. Issue 33, File 7; 15
September 1991.

Icove, David, Karl Seger, and William VonStorch. Fighting Computer Crime.
USA: O'Reilly Books, 1996.

Time Life Books. Revolution in Science. Virginia: Time Life Books, inc.,

Wallich, Paul. "A Rouge's Routing." Scientific American. May 1995, pp. 31.


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