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Essay/Term paper: Computer crime is increasing

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Information Technology

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Computer Crime Is Increasing

A report discussing the proposition that computer crime has increased
dramatically over the last 10 years.


Computer crime is generally defined as any crime accomplished through special
knowledge of computer technology. Increasing instances of white-collar crime
involve computers as more businesses automate and the information held by the
computers becomes an important asset. Computers can also become objects of crime
when they or their contents are damaged, for example when vandals attack the
computer itself, or when a "computer virus" (a program capable of altering or
erasing computer memory) is introduced into a computer system.

As subjects of crime, computers represent the electronic environment in which
frauds are programmed and executed; an example is the transfer of money
balances in accounts to perpetrators' accounts for withdrawal. Computers are
instruments of crime when they are used to plan or control such criminal acts.
Examples of these types of crimes are complex embezzlements that might occur
over long periods of time, or when a computer operator uses a computer to steal
or alter valuable information from an employer.

Variety and Extent

Since the first cases were reported in 1958, computers have been used for most
kinds of crime, including fraud, theft, embezzlement, burglary, sabotage,
espionage, murder, and forgery. One study of 1,500 computer crimes established
that most of them were committed by trusted computer users within businesses i.e.
persons with the requisite skills, knowledge, access, and resources. Much of
known computer crime has consisted of entering false data into computers. This
method of computer crime is simpler and safer than the complex process of
writing a program to change data already in the computer.

Now that personal computers with the ability to communicate by telephone are
prevalent in our society, increasing numbers of crimes have been perpetrated by
computer hobbyists, known as "hackers," who display a high level of technical
expertise. These "hackers" are able to manipulate various communications
systems so that their interference with other computer systems is hidden and
their real identity is difficult to trace. The crimes committed by most
"hackers" consist mainly of simple but costly electronic

trespassing, copyrighted-information piracy, and vandalism. There is also
evidence that organised professional criminals have been attacking and using
computer systems as they find their old activities and environments being

Another area of grave concern to both the operators and users of computer
systems is the increasing prevalence of computer viruses. A computer virus is
generally defined as any sort of destructive computer program, though the term
is usually reserved for the most dangerous ones. The ethos of a computer virus
is an intent to cause damage, "akin to vandalism on a small scale, or terrorism
on a grand scale." There are many ways in which viruses can be spread. A virus
can be introduced to networked computers thereby infecting every computer on the
network or by sharing disks between computers. As more home users now have
access to modems, bulletin board systems where users may download software have
increasingly become the target of viruses. Viruses cause damage by either
attacking another file or by simply filling up the computer's memory or by using
up the computer's processor power. There are a number of different types of
viruses, but one of the factors common to most of them is that they all copy
themselves (or parts of themselves). Viruses are, in essence, self-replicating.

We will now consider a "pseudo-virus," called a worm. People in the computer
industry do not agree on the distinctions between worms and viruses. Regardless,
a worm is a program specifically designed to move through networks. A worm may
have constructive purposes, such as to find machines with free resources that
could be more efficiently used, but usually a worm is used to disable or slow
down computers. More specifically, worms are defined as, "computer virus
programs ... [which] propagate on a computer network without the aid of an
unwitting human accomplice. These programs move of their own volition based upon
stored knowledge of the network structure."

Another type of virus is the "Trojan Horse." These viruses hide inside another
seemingly harmless program and once the Trojan Horse program is used on the
computer system, the virus spreads. One of the most famous virus types of
recent years is the Time Bomb, which is a delayed action virus of some type.
This type of virus has gained notoriety as a result of the Michelangelo virus.
This virus was designed to erase the hard drives of people using IBM compatible
computers on the artist's birthday. Michelangelo was so prevalent that it was
even distributed accidentally by some software publishers when the software
developers' computers became infected.

SYSOPs must also worry about being liable to their users as a result of viruses
which cause a disruption in service. Viruses can cause a disruption in service
or service can be suspended to prevent the spread of a virus. If the SYSOP has
guaranteed to provide continuous service then any disruption in service could
result in a breach of contract and litigation could ensue. However, contract
provisions could provide for excuse or deferral of obligation in the event of
disruption of service by a virus.


The first federal computer crime law, entitled the Counterfeit Access Device and
Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1984, was passed in October of 1984. The Act
made it a felony to knowingly access a computer without authorisation, or in
excess of authorisation, in order to obtain classified United States defence or
foreign relations information with the intent or reason to believe that such
information would be used to harm the United States or to advantage a foreign

The act also attempted to protect financial data. Attempted access to obtain
information from financial records of a financial institution or in a consumer
file of a credit reporting agency was also outlawed. Access to use, destroy,
modify or disclose information found in a computer system, (as well as to
prevent authorised use of any computer used for government business) was also
made illegal. The 1984 Act had several shortcomings, and was revised in The
Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986.

Three new crimes were added to the 1986 Act. These were a computer fraud
offence, modelled after federal mail and wire fraud statutes, an offence for the
alteration, damage or destruction of information contained in a "federal
interest computer", an offence for trafficking in computer passwords under some

Even the knowing and intentional possession of a sufficient amount of
counterfeit or unauthorised "access devices" is illegal. This statute has been
interpreted to cover computer passwords "which may be used to access computers
to wrongfully obtain things of value, such as telephone and credit card

Remedies and Law Enforcement

Business crimes of all types are probably decreasing as a direct result of
increasing automation. When a business activity is carried out with computer
and communications systems, data are better protected against modification,

destruction, disclosure, misappropriation, misrepresentation, and contamination.
Computers impose a discipline on information workers and facilitate use of
almost perfect automated controls that were never possible when these had to be
applied by the workers themselves under management edict. Computer hardware and
software manufacturers are also designing computer systems and programs that are
more resistant to tampering.

Recent U.S. legislation, including laws concerning privacy, credit card fraud
and racketeering, provide criminal-justice agencies with tools to fight
business crime. As of 1988, all but two states had specific computer-crime laws,
and a federal computer-crime law (1986) deals with certain crimes involving
computers in different states and in government activities.


There are no valid statistics about the extent of computer crime. Victims often
resist reporting suspected cases, because they can lose more from embarrassment,
lost reputation, litigation, and other consequential losses than from the acts
themselves. Limited evidence indicates that the number of cases is rising each
year because of the increasing number of computers in business applications
where crime has traditionally occurred. The largest recorded crimes involving
insurance, banking, product inventories, and securities have resulted in losses
of tens of millions to billions of dollars and all these crimes were facilitated
by computers.


Bequai, August, Techno Crimes (1986).

Mungo, Paul, and Clough, Bryan, Approaching Zero: The Extraordinary Underworld
of Hackers, Phreakers, Virus Writers, and Keyboard Criminals (1993).

Norman, Adrian R. D., Computer Insecurity (1983).

Parker, Donn B., Fighting Computer Crime (1983).

Dodd S. Griffith, The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986: A Measured Response
to a Growing Problem, 43 Vand. L. Rev. 453, 455 (1990).


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