Computer crimes are criminal offences done by the use of information technology. It may involve illegal access to information in a computer with an intention of causing harm such as deletion or alteration. It involves damaging both computer hardware and software and interfering with the privacy of computer users. The various types of computer crime include hacking, phishing, malware, cyberstalking, and identity theft.
Whereas there is no tangible statistical evidence on the quantity of computer crimes and the value of loss they cause, there has been increasing concerns and attention towards the vice. This is because many crimes go undetected, if detected; many are never reported to law agencies, and the losses caused are at times difficult to measure.
Attention Given to Computer Crimes
In addition to the numerous amounts of money computer users lose through computer crimes; many victims have psychologically and socially suffered, including children exposed to pornographies. Because of the global nature of the internet, there are challenges faced while trying to combat computer crimes. Criminals can commit crimes from any part of the world by targeting many users worldwide, transmit information through networked computers while hiding their identity, and store any form of evidence over cyber space.
Computer crimes happen every day. But unlike traditional crimes, it has been very difficult to measure the amount of arm they cause to victims. There have been concerns as to the extent of destruction they can cause. Many organizations have therefore been formed around the globe to monitor and prosecute fraud cases.
In the United Kingdom, for example, organizations such as police officers, Serious and Organized Crime Agency (SOCA), Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP), Communication Electronics Security Group (CESG), National Infrastructure Security Coordination Centre (NISCC), and Government departments (Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, 2006), work hard towards tracing computer network communications in order to prevent, investigate, and prosecute cyber criminals.
Furthermore, the UK government amended the Computer Misuse Act to conform with the Council of European Convention on Cybercrime by increasing offences related to unauthorized access from six months sentence to two years, criminalizing offences relating to denial of service, and impairing operations of computers increased five to ten year sentence.
There have also been considerations as to whether to amend N.J.S.A. 2C:7-1 to -6 to enable people registering by Megan Law to provide all their email addresses (Celentano et al., 2000). This will help monitor people who distribute child pornographies over the internet. UNESCO developed a program named Innocence in Danger in 2000 that will keep watch of child pornographers by setting up hotlines that can be used internationally. The hotline is designed to help victims get help from law enforcement agencies such as the police, while volunteers around the world monitor the line. In 1998, a summit held at White House declared “zero tolerance” on child pornography (Celentano et al., 2000, p. 21) and enhanced coordination between internet service providers and law enforcement agencies.
Even though it is difficult to find the extent at which internet fraud occur, there are agencies which help settle cases concerning internet fraud. The Internet Fraud Complaint Center (IFCC) launched in 1999, for example, uses it websites to collect fraud cases and clears them. In case reported cases do not meet the FBI threshold, it forwards them to law enforcement agencies at local level. Nonprofit organizations such as the Internet Fraud Council work closely with institutions such as the government to help prevent fraud, interdict, and prosecute internet fraudsters.
Besides the many organizations striving to fight computer crime, many other agencies work towards prevention of computer crime. This is evident in the many computer security programs and encryption algorithms developed. Moreover many people develop antispyware applications to prevent computers from harmful programs such as computer viruses.
How Changes in Technology will Impart Crime in Future
Computer crimes are as a result of the changes in technology. Unlike traditional crimes which involve physical actions and are based on physical evidence, computer crimes mostly happen electronically and involve stealing information such as marketing strategies, competition strategies, and related information (Carter & Katz, 1996). The crimes happen by electronic means and do not have any physical evidence. If a criminal alters login information, there might not be any records that can indicate his presence. According to Carter and Katz (1996, p. 1), in case the evidence exists, it is in a form of “electronic impulses and programming codes”.
Since such crimes happen over networks, it is very difficult for criminal justice field to locate the location of the criminal. Moreover, because computer crimes lack physical evidence, criminal justice will have to develop mechanisms of dealing with electronic evidence. They will have to develop methods of collecting and analyzing such evidence to come up the correct judgments. Computer crimes may go unnoticed for months. The judicial systems will therefore have to deal with crimes that happened some time back and are noticed later.
Computer users, even after becoming aware of the crimes, are reluctant to report them to law enforcement agencies because of the fear of “negative publicity” (Simons, 1997, p. 57). The judicial system will therefore have the responsibility of educating people on the importance of reporting such crimes.
Criminals are able to hide or destroy evidence using computers. Computer viruses, for example, can permanently destroy information in a computer. In such a case, it will be very difficult for criminal justice field to work on the case. The criminal justice field will have to develop mechanisms of dealing with electronic cases with no evidence.
Computer crimes are increasing in the world. This has led to the establishment of many organizations who are concerned with developing ways of preventing, controlling, investigating, and prosecuting criminals. Since it happens electronically, there is no physical evidence to be presented to criminal justice bodies. The criminal justice field should therefore find ways of dealing with computer crime cases with or without electronic evidence.