What is Cybercrime? Definition and Examples

By now, most people are aware of the concept of cybercrime, but may not understand the full ramifications or the full cost of cybercrime. Hacking for the purposes of stealing financial or personal information is possibly one of the most well-known types of cybercrime, but it is far from being the only type of cybercrime there is. Here is an overview of cybercrime: what it is, the difficulties in prosecuting cybercrime and what can be done about it.

What is Cybercrime?

In short, cybercrime is any type of illegal activity that takes place via digital means. Data theft is, of course, one of the most common types of cybercrime, but cybercrime also includes a wide range of malicious activity as well, such as cyberbullying or planting worms or viruses. Cybercrimes can be divided into two distinct categories: those that cause intentional damage and those that cause unintentional damage. In most cases, the damage is financial but not always.

Cyberbullying, for instance, is illegal when it constitutes a threat to a person's physical safety, involves coercion or displays hate or bias against certain protected populations. In that case, the damage is not financial, but it is still a crime. Unintentional damage might include a disgruntled employee planting a "harmless" virus that disrupts business in any way. While it may not cause the same immediate financial damage as stealing proprietary or financial information, it still causes collateral financial damage due to both lost employee time and whatever money the company has to spend to fix the problem.

Difficulties in Prosecuting Cybercrime and Cybercriminals

Cybercrime is on the rise, which might be partially due to how difficult it is to prosecute. This is, in part, due to the constantly evolving nature of cybercrime, not to mention the jurisdictional issues it creates. Laws, by nature, need to be very clearly defined in order to prove that they were violated. It also takes a great deal of time, discussion and debate to pass laws, so the law generally lags far behind the technology cybercriminals use to achieve their aims. When it is difficult to define the crime or the means of perpetrating the crime itself, it is difficult to create laws to protect individuals or even businesses against them.

Even when laws are created, however, they need to also be assigned a governing agency to enforce the laws. This too is where things get tricky. Cybercrimes can be committed against almost anyone, anywhere in the world by almost anyone anywhere in the world. Not only does this often make it difficult to track down the perpetrators of the crime, but even if they are found it raises questions as to who is responsible for prosecuting the crime if it is even determined to be a crime.

For instance, the United States may have laws that protect citizens against certain types of fraud, but those same laws may not exist in other countries. If a Nigerian citizen living in Nigeria for example, perpetrates cyberfraud against an American citizen, it is not necessarily illegal if Nigeria does not have laws in place prohibiting those activities. Even if they do have laws in place, however, they may not have the resources and infrastructure to enforce the laws. Ultimately, the internet is something of the wild, wild west and it is largely up to individuals and businesses to protect themselves from most cybercrime.

Types of Cybercrime

  1. Hacking: Hacking is simply any unauthorized access of a computer system. Sometimes, hacking can be fairly harmless, such as rewriting sections of an existing software program to allow access to features the original designer did not intend. While this is technically a violation of the Terms of Service agreement, it is not exactly a prosecutable offense but is still considered hacking. Hacking is probably one of the most broadly used forms of cybercrime, but not all hackers are criminals. Some hackers often referred to as "white hat" hackers, are hired by software companies to find flaws in their systems so they can fix them before "black hat" or criminal hackers do.
  2. Viruses, Worms, Malware and Ransomware: Many types of malicious software can be delivered by a wide range of means. In the case of most viruses, they need to actually be downloaded in some way onto a hard drive. In targeted attacks, a victim may receive an innocent-looking email that is ostensibly from a coworker or trusted individual containing a link to click on or file to download. In other cases, websites may contain infected links that download worms or viruses when you click on them. In some cases, they are disguised as banner ads that actually deliver malware as soon as you click on the link.
  3. Denial-of-Service (DOS) attack, Email bombing or spamming: These types of attacks flood systems with so much information that it can crash the servers that cyber businesses depend on. A DOS attack, for instance, sends a flood of fake traffic to a website, which overloads the server, causing a website to temporarily malfunction or in some cases, crash completely. DOS attacks can also be committed strategically to interfere with a specific event that can cause a financial catastrophe. For instance, when concert tickets for a certain artist go on sale, a DOS attack can keep anyone from buying tickets and possibly even crash the site. In that case, they don't just cause a massive financial loss to the ticket seller, but also to the artist.

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