Computers and Crime
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
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
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
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
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.