Computer Crime


Over the last twenty years, a technological revolution has
occurred as computers are now an essential element of
today's society. Large computers are used to track
reservations for the airline industry, process billions of
dollars for banks, manufacture products for industry, and
conduct major transactions for businesses because more and
more people now have computers at home and at the office.
People commit computer crimes because of society's
declining ethical standards more than any economic need.
According to experts, gender is the only bias. The profile
of today's non-professional thieves crosses all races, age
groups and economic strata. Computer criminals tend to be
relatively honest and in a position of trust: few would do
anything to harm another human, and most do not consider
their crime to be truly dishonest. Most are males: women
have tended to be accomplices, though of late they are
becoming more aggressive. Computer Criminals tend to
usually be "between the ages of 14-30, they are usually
bright, eager, highly motivated, adventuresome, and willing
to accept technical challenges."(Shannon, 16:2) "It is
tempting to liken computer criminals to other criminals,
ascribing characteristics somehow different from 'normal'
individuals, but that is not the case."(Sharp, 18:3) It is
believed that the computer criminal "often marches to the
same drum as the potential victim but follows and
unanticipated path."(Blumenthal, 1:2) There is no actual
profile of a computer criminal because they range from
young teens to elders, from black to white, from short to
tall. Definitions of computer crime has changed over the
years as the users and misusers of computers have expanded
into new areas. "When computers were first introduced into
businesses, computer crime was defined simply as a form of
white-collar crime committed inside a computer
system."(2600:Summer 92,p.13) Some new terms have been
added to the computer criminal vocabulary. "Trojan Horse is
a hidden code put into a computer program. Logic bombs are
implanted so that the perpetrator doesn't have to
physically present himself or herself." (Phrack 12,p.43)
Another form of a hidden code is "salamis." It came from
the big salami loaves sold in delis years ago. Often people
would take small portions of bites that were taken out of
them and then they were secretly returned to the shelves in
the hopes that no one would notice them missing.(Phrack
12,p.44) Congress has been reacting to the outbreak of
computer crimes. "The U.S. House of Judiciary Committee
approved a bipartisan computer crime bill that was expanded
to make it a federal crime to hack into credit and other
data bases protected by federal privacy statutes."(Markoff,
B 13:1) This bill is generally creating several categories
of federal misdemeanor felonies for unauthorized access to
computers to obtain money, goods or services or classified
information. This also applies to computers used by the
federal government or used in interstate of foreign
commerce which would cover any system accessed by
interstate telecommunication systems. "Computer crime often
requires more sophistications than people realize
it."(Sullivan, 40:4) Many U.S. businesses have ended up in
bankruptcy court unaware that they have been victimized by
disgruntled employees. American businesses wishes that the
computer security nightmare would vanish like a fairy tale.
Information processing has grown into a gigantic industry.
"It accounted for $33 billion in services in 1983, and in
1988 it was accounted to be $88 billion." (Blumenthal, B
1:2) All this information is vulnerable to greedy
employees, nosy-teenagers and general carelessness, yet no
one knows whether the sea of computer crimes is "only as
big as the Gulf of Mexico or as huge as the North
Atlantic." (Blumenthal,B 1:2) Vulnerability is likely to
increase in the future. And by the turn of the century,
"nearly all of the software to run computers will be bought
from vendors rather than developed in houses, standardized
software will make theft easier." (Carley, A 1:1) A
two-year secret service investigation code-named Operation
Sun-Devil, targeted companies all over the United States
and led to numerous seizures. Critics of Operation
Sun-Devil claim that the Secret Service and the FBI, which
have almost a similar operation, have conducted
unreasonable search and seizures, they disrupted the lives
and livelihoods of many people, and generally conducted
themselves in an unconstitutional manner. "My whole life
changed because of that operation. They charged me and I
had to take them to court. I have to thank 2600 and
Emmanuel Goldstein for publishing my story. I owe a lot to
the fellow hackers and fellow hackers and the Electronic
Frontier Foundation for coming up with the blunt of the
legal fees so we could fight for our rights." (Interview
with Steve Jackson, fellow hacker, who was charged in
operation Sun Devil) The case of Steve Jackson Games vs.
Secret Service has yet to come to a verdict yet but should
very soon. The secret service seized all of Steve Jackson's
computer materials which he made a living on. They charged
that he made games that published information on how to
commit computer crimes. He was being charged with running a
underground hack system. "I told them it was only a game
and that I was angry and that was the way that I tell a
story. I never thought Hacker [Steve Jackson's game] would
cause such a problem. My biggest problem was that they
seized the BBS (Bulletin Board System) and because of that
I had to make drastic cuts, so we laid of eight people out
of 18. If the Secret Service had just come with a subpoena
we could have showed or copied every file in the building
for them."(Steve Jackson Interview) Computer professionals
are grappling not only with issues of free speech and civil
liberties, but also with how to educate the public and the
media to the difference between on-line computer
experimenters. They also point out that, while the computer
networks and the results are a new kind of crime, they are
protected by the same laws and freedom of any real world
domain. "A 14-year old boy connects his home computer to a
television line, and taps into the computer at his
neighborhood bank and regularly transfers money into his
personnel account."(2600:Spring 93,p.19) On paper and on
screens a popular new mythology is growing quickly in which
computer criminals are the 'Butch Cassidys' of the
electronic age. "These true tales of computer capers are
far from being futuristic fantasies."(2600:Spring 93:p.19)
They are inspired by scores of real life cases. Computer
crimes are not just crimes against the computer, but it is
also against the theft of money, information, software,
benefits and welfare and many more. "With the average
damage from a computer crime amounting to about $.5
million, sophisticated computer crimes can rock the
industry."(Phrack 25,p.6) Computer crimes can take on many
forms. Swindling or stealing of money is one of the most
common computer crime. An example of this kind of crime is
the Well Fargo Bank that discovered an employee was using
the banks computer to embezzle $21.3 million, it is the
largest U.S. electronic bank fraud on record. (Phrack
23,p.46) Credit Card scams are also a type of computer
crime. This is one that fears many people and for good
reasons. A fellow computer hacker that goes by the handle
of Raven is someone who uses his computer to access credit
data bases. In a talk that I had with him he tried to
explain what he did and how he did it. He is a very
intelligent person because he gained illegal access to a
credit data base and obtained the credit history of local
residents. He then allegedly uses the residents names and
credit information to apply for 24 Mastercards and Visa
cards. He used the cards to issue himself at least 40,000
in cash from a number of automatic teller machines. He was
caught once but was only withdrawing $200 and in was a
minor larceny and they couldn't prove that he was the one
who did the other ones so he was put on probation. "I was
17 and I needed money and the people in the underground
taught me many things. I would not go back and not do what
I did but I would try not to get caught next time. I am the
leader of HTH (High Tech Hoods) and we are currently
devising other ways to make money. If it weren't for my
computer my life would be nothing like it is
today."(Interview w/Raven) "Finally, one of the thefts
involving the computer is the theft of computer time. Most
of us don't realize this as a crime, but the congress
consider this as a crime."(Ball,V85) Everyday people are
urged to use the computer but sometimes the use becomes
excessive or improper or both. For example, at most
colleges computer time is thought of as free-good students
and faculty often computerizes mailing lists for their
churches or fraternity organizations which might be written
off as good public relations. But, use of the computers for
private consulting projects without payment of the
university is clearly improper. In business it is the
similar. Management often looks the other way when
employees play computer games or generate a Snoopy
calendar. But, if this becomes excessive the employees is
stealing work time. And computers can only process only so
many tasks at once. Although considered less severe than
other computer crimes such activities can represent a major
business loss. "While most attention is currently being
given to the criminal aspects of computer abuses, it is
likely that civil action will have an equally important
effect on long term security problems."(Alexander, V119)
The issue of computer crimes draw attention to the civil or
liability aspects in computing environments. In the future
there may tend to be more individual and class action
suits. CONCLUSION Computer crimes are fast and growing
because the evolution of technology is fast, but the
evolution of law is slow. While a variety of states have
passed legislation relating to computer crime, the
situation is a national problem that requires a national
solution. Controls can be instituted within industries to
prevent such crimes. Protection measures such as hardware
identification, access controls software and disconnecting
critical bank applications should be devised. However,
computers don't commit crimes; people do. The perpetrator's
best advantage is ignorance on the part of those protecting
the system. Proper internal controls reduce the opportunity
for fraud. 
Alexander, Charles, "Crackdown on Computer Capers," 
Time, Feb. 8, 1982, V119.
Ball, Leslie D., "Computer Crime," Technology Review, 
April 1982, V85.
Blumenthal,R. "Going Undercover in the Computer
Underworld". New York Times, Jan. 26,
1993, B, 1:2.
Carley, W. "As Computers Flip, People Lose Grip in Saga of
Sabatoge at Printing Firm". Wall
Street Journal, Aug. 27, 1992, A, 1:1.
Carley, W. "In-House Hackers: Rigging Computers for Fraud
or Malice Is Often an Inside Job".
Wall Street Journal, Aug 27, 1992, A, 7:5.
Markoff, J. "Hackers Indicted on Spy Charges". New York
Times, Dec. 8, 1992, B, 13:1.
Finn, Nancy and Peter, "Don't Rely on the Law to Stop
Computer Crime," Computer World,
Dec. 19, 1984, V18.
Phrack Magazine issues 1-46. Compiled by Knight Lightning
and Phiber Optik.
Shannon, L R. "THe Happy Hacker". New York Times, Mar. 21,
1993, 7, 16:2.
Sharp, B. "The Hacker Crackdown". New York Times, Dec. 20,
1992, 7, 18:3.
Sullivan, D. "U.S. Charges Young Hackers". New York Times,
Nov. 15, 1992, 1, 40:4.
2600: The Hacker Quarterly. Issues Summer 92-Spring 93.
Compiled by Emmanuel Goldstein. 

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