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Definition of Cybercrime

written by: Lamar Stonecypher•edited by: Brian Nelson•updated: 10/26/2011

Cybercrime is any criminal activity involving computers and networks. It can range from fraud to spam to the distant theft of government or corporate secrets through criminal trespass into remote systems, even in other countries or on other continents.

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    What is Cybercrime?

    Online activities are as vulnerable to crime and can compromise personal safety as effectively as common physical crimes. Lawmakers, law enforcement, and individuals need to know how to protect themselves and the people for which they are responsible. You can see by the explanations of various cybercrimes below that these types of crimes have existed long before computers and the internet were made available to the general public. The only difference involves the tools used to commit the crimes.

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    Types of Cybercrime

    • Assault by Threat – threatening a person with fear for their lives or the lives of their families or persons whose safety they are responsible for (such as employees or communities) through the use of a computer network such as email, videos, or phones.
    • Child pornography – the use of computer networks to create, distribute, or access materials that sexually exploit underage children.
    • Cyber contraband – transferring illegal items through the internet (such as encryption technology) that is banned in some locations.
    • Cyberlaundering – electronic transfer of illegally-obtained monies with the goal of hiding its source and possibly its destination.
    • Cyberstalking – express or implied physical threats that creates fear through the use of computer technology such as email, phones, text messages, webcams, websites or videos.
    • Cyberterrorism – premeditated, usually politically-motivated violence committed against civilians through the use of, or with the help of, computer technology.

    Cybertheft is using a computer to steal. This includes activities related to: breaking and entering, DNS cache poisoning, embezzlement and unlawful appropriation, espionage, identity theft, fraud, malicious hacking, plagiarism, and piracy. Examples can include:

    • Advertising or soliciting prostitution through the internet. It is against the law to access prostitution through the internet (including in the state of Nevada in the United States) because the process of accessing the internet crosses state and sometimes national borders.
    • Drug sales. Both illegal and prescription drug sales through the internet are illegal except as a customer through a state-licensed pharmacy based in the United States.
    • Computer-based fraud. Fraud is different from theft because the victim voluntarily and knowingly gives the money or property to the criminal but would not have if the criminal did not misrepresent themselves or their offering. Fraud is a lie. If someone leads you on or allows you to believe something that is false to benefit them, they are lying and this is fraud. You become a victim when you voluntarily surrender monies or property based on their misrepresentation or lie. Losing money from computer crime can be especially devastating because often it is very difficult to get the money back. Other than direct scams, fraud can include acts such as altering data to get a benefit; examples are removing arrest records from a police station server, changing grades on a school computer system, or deleting speeding tickets from driving records.
    • Online gambling. Gambling over the internet is a violation of American law because the gambling service providers require electronic payment for gambling through the use of credit cards, debit cards, electronic fund transfers which is illegal under recent US legislation.

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    Cybertresspass – accessing a computer’s or network’s resources without authorization or permission from the owner, but does not alter, disturb, misuse, or damage the data or system. This is hacking for the purpose of entering an electronic network without permission. Examples might include:

    1. Using a wireless internet connection at a hotel at which you are staying and accessing the hotel’s private files without disturbing them because they are available.
    2. Reading email, files, or noting which programs are installed on a third-party's computer system without permission just for fun, because you can. This is sometimes simply called snooping.

    Cybervandalism - Damaging or destroying data rather than stealing or misusing them (as with cybertheft) is called cybervandalism. This can include a situation where network services are disrupted or stopped. This deprives the computer/network owners and authorized users (website visitors, employees) of the network itself and the data or information contained on the network. Examples:

    • Entering a network without permission and altering, destroying, or deleting data or files.
    • Deliberately entering malicious code (viruses, rootkits, trojans) into a computer network to monitor, follow, disrupt, stop, or perform any other action without the permission of the owner of the network.
    • Attacking the server of the computer network (DDoS attack) so the server does not perform properly or prevents legitimate website visitors from accessing the network resources with the proper permissions.

What Is Cybercrime?

This series of articles explains how cybercrime is not necessarily different than everyday crime.
  1. Definition of Cybercrime
  2. Are Cybercrime Laws Uniform?
  3. Cybercrime Laws Vary
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