Cybercrime and Society
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Cybercrime and Society

Majid Yar, Kevin F. Steinmetz

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eBook - ePub

Cybercrime and Society

Majid Yar, Kevin F. Steinmetz

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The Third Edition of Cybercrime and Society provides readers with expert analysis on the most important cybercrime issues affecting modern society.

The book has undergone extensive updates and expands on the topics addressed in the 2013 edition, with updated analysis and contemporary case studies on subjects such as: computer hacking, cyberterrorism, hate speech, internet pornography, child sex abuse, and policing the internet. New author Kevin Steinmetz brings further expertise to the book, including an in-depth insight into computer hacking. The third edition also includes two new chapters:

  • "Researching and Theorizing Cybercrime" explains how criminological theories have been applied to various cybercrime issues, and also highlights the challenges facing the academic study of cybercrime.
  • "Looking toward the Future of Cybercrime" examines the implications for future cybercrimes, including biological implants, cloud-computing, state-sponsored hacking and propaganda, and the effects online regulation would have on civil liberties.

The book is supported by online resources for lecturers and students, including: Lecturer slides, Multiple-choice questions, web links, Podcasts, and exclusive SAGE Videos.

Suitable reading for undergraduates and postgraduates studying cybercrime and cybersecurity.

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1 Cybercrime and the Internet An Introduction

Chapter Contents

  • 1.1 Perceptions of cybercrime
  • 1.2 Cybercrime: Questions and answers
  • 1.3 A brief history and analysis of the internet
  • 1.4 Defining and classifying cybercrime
  • 1.5 What’s ‘new’ about cybercrime?
  • 1.6 Explaining cybercrime
  • 1.7 Challenges for criminal justice and policing
  • 1.8 Summary
  • Study questions
  • Further reading
Chapter 1 examines the following issues:
  • how cybercrime is perceived and discussed in society, politics and the media;
  • the kinds of questions that criminologists ask about cybercrime;
  • the emergence and growth of the internet, the role it plays in a wide range of everyday activities, and how this growth creates new opportunities for offending;
  • how cybercrime can best be defined and classified;
  • whether and to what extent cybercrime can be considered a ‘new’ or ‘novel’ form of criminal activity;
  • issues confronting criminology in explaining cybercrime;
  • the challenges that cybercrime presents for criminal justice systems.

Key Terms

  • Anonymity
  • Crime
  • Cybercrime
  • Cyberspace
  • Deviance
  • e-commerce
  • Globalization
  • Hacking
  • Information society
  • Internet
  • Internet of Things (IoT)
  • Moral panic
  • Piracy
  • Policing
  • Pornography
  • Representations of crime
  • Social inclusion and social exclusion
  • Stalking
  • Surveillance
  • Transnational crime and policing
  • Viruses

1.1 Perceptions of Cybercrime

4 May 2000. A computer worm called the ‘Love Bug’ rapidly infects computers worldwide. It uses infected machines to email itself to other users, corrupting files on computers as it goes. Within hours, millions of computers are affected, including those of UK and US government agencies. The damage caused by the Love Bug is placed at between $7 billion and $10 billion. The prime suspect is Onel de Guzman, 24-year-old college dropout from the Philippines. In August 2000 all charges against de Guzman are dropped – the Philippines simply doesn’t have laws that cover computer hacking under which he could be tried and convicted. (Furnell, 2002: 159–161; Philippsohn, 2001: 61)
11 February 2003. FBI Director Robert Mueller tells the US Senate that ‘cyberterrorism’ is a growing threat to US national security. He claims that al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups are ‘increasingly computer savvy’ and will, in the future, have ever greater opportunities to strike by targeting critical computer systems using electronic tools. (, 2003)
4 February 2004. Graham Coutts, a 35-year-old musician from Hove, UK, is convicted of murdering Jane Longhurst, a 31-year-old school teacher. Coutts, who strangled his victim, is reported to have been ‘obsessed’ with images of violent sexual pornography, which he had viewed on the internet just hours before the murder. In the wake of the trial, UK and US government officials announce that they will investigate ways of eradicating such ‘evil’ sites from the internet. (BBC News, 9 March 2004)
August 2011. As urban disturbances spread across numerous English cities, politicians and mass media claim that new social media had been used by participants as a means of disseminating information about incidents in real time, and utilised as a means of social coordination to facilitate rioting and to better evade the police. The UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, suggests that banning ‘troublemakers’ from using such media may be desirable in the interests of public order. (Halliday, 2011)
October 2016. Major web outages were reported throughout the US and Europe as a result of the largest distributed denial of service attack (DDoS) ever seen. Websites like Netflix, Reddit, Twitter, and others were temporarily taken offline. The culprit was the Mirai botnet that exploited vulnerabilities in Internet of Things devices. The botnet was originally developed to help its architects gain a business advantage in the provision of servers and services for the video game Minecraft and make inroads toward developing a DDoS mitigation enterprise. (Graff, 2017)
The above are just a few instances of what appears to be an explosion of crime and criminality related to the growth of new forms of electronic communication. Since the mid-1990s, the internet has grown to become a fact of life for people worldwide, especially those living in the Western industrialized world. Its relentless expansion, it is claimed, is perpetually in the process of transforming the spheres of business, work, consumption, leisure and politics (Castells, 2002). The internet is seen as part of the globalization process that is supposedly sweeping away old realities and certainties, creating new opportunities and challenges associated with living in a ‘shrinking’ world. We are now said to be in the midst of a ‘new industrial revolution’, one that will lead us into a new kind of society, an ‘information age’ (Webster, 2003). Yet awareness of, and enthusiasm for, these changes has been tempered by fears that the internet brings with it new threats and dangers to our well-being and security. ‘Cyberspace’, the realm of computerized interactions and exchanges, seems to offer a vast range of new opportunities for criminal and deviant activities. Two decades or so on from the internet’s first appearance in popular consciousness, we can see that the intervening years have been replete with fears about its darker, criminal dimensions. Businesses cite threats to economic performance and stability, ranging from vandalism to e-fraud and piracy; governments talk of ‘cyberwarfare’ and ‘cyberterror’, especially in the wake of the 11 September 2001 (9/11) attacks in New York; parents fear for their children’s online safety, as they are told of perverts and paedophiles stalking the internet’s chat rooms and social networking sites looking for victims; hardly a computer user exists who has not been subjected to attack by viruses and other forms of malicious software; the defenders of democratic rights and freedoms see a threat from the state itself, convinced that the internet furnishes a tool for surveillance and control of citizens, an electronic web with which Big Brother can watch us all. The development of the internet and related communication technologies therefore appears to present an array of new challenges to individual and collective safety, social order and stability, economic prosperity and political liberty.
Our awareness of the internet’s criminal dimensions has certainly been cultivated and heightened by mass media representations. The news media have played their part in identifying and intensifying public concerns, and hardly a day goes by without some new report of an internet-related threat. Dowland et al. (1999: 723–724) surveyed two ‘quality’ UK newspapers over a two-and-a-half-year period, and found that, on average, stories about computer-related crime appeared twice a week in each throughout the period. A search of the LexisNexis database indicates that news media interest in the coverage of cybercrime has increased significantly over time, with 462 articles in 2000 and 4,460 in 2017. Evidence also indicates that news coverage of certain cybercrime topics has only increased over time. For instance, in their study of international news media coverage from 2008 to 2013, Jarvis et al. (2015: 70) found that the number of news items discussing cyberterrorism had increased over time, with a notable uptick after 2010.
In addition to the print media, we must also consider broadcast media (television, radio) and the internet itself (which now constitutes a major source of cybercrime reportage). Popular fiction has also picked up on the internet’s more problematic dimensions, with films such as Hackers, The Net, Black Hat, and Live Free or Die Hard sharpening the sense that our safety may be under threat from irresponsible individuals and unscrupulous authorities (Steinmetz, 2016; Webber and Vass, 2010). Perhaps such representations, and the concerns they inform and incite, should not altogether surprise us. After all, while the internet itself may be new, history shows us that times of rapid social, economic and technological change are often accompanied by heightened cultural anxieties (even panics) about threats to our familiar and ordered ways of life (Goode and Ben-Yehuda, 1994). In his analysis of media coverage, Levi (2008: 373) notes that cybercrime ‘is used as titillating entertainment which generates fear at the power of technology beyond the control of respectable society’. Thomas and Loader (2000: 8) suggest that social transformation wrought by internet technologies ‘makes the future appear insecure and unpredictable’, yielding a public and political overreaction. Such moral panics, fuelled by the media, lead to an excessive and unjustified belief that particular individuals, groups or events present an urgent threat to society (Critcher, 2003). Yar (2012a) suggests that representations of the internet in the popular imagination have increasingly come to be characterized by a ‘cyber-dystopian’ outlook, one that portrays the social effects of new technologies in overwhelmingly negative terms. Internet-related instances of panics include those over the effects of pornography in the mid-1990s, and more recently over threats to child safety from paedophiles (Cassell and Cramer, 2008; Littlewood, 2003). The proliferation of such anxieties is perhaps best viewed as a consequence in part of the rapid shifts and reconstructions in the midst of which we currently find ourselves. This is not to suggest, however, that the dangers posed by cybercrime can simply be dismissed as wholly unfounded. Nor is it to suggest that such widespread reactions ought to be simply ignored by criminologists. Media representations, both factual and fictional, constitute an important criminological research topic in their own right; their careful examination enables us to uncover how the problem of cybercrime is being constructed and defined, and how this shapes social and political responses to it (Taylor, 2000; Vegh, 2002). Yet the weight of such representations can also serve to obscure the realities of criminal activity and its impacts, hindering rather than facilitating a balanced understanding.

1.2 Cybercrime: Questions and Answers

For criminologists, making sense of cybercrime consequently presents a significant challenge, as it requires us to take, as best we can, a more sober and balanced view, sifting fact from fantasy and myth from reality. The very existence of this book is testimony to the authors’ belief that such an examination is both possible and worthwhile. Indeed, numerous scholars have already made considerable strides in this direction. By using a combination of theoretical analysis and empirical investigation they have attempted to get a handle on a range of pressing questions:
  • Just what might be meant by ‘cybercrimes’?
  • What is the actual scope and scale of such crimes?
  • How might such crimes be both like and unlike the ‘terrestrial’ crimes with which we are more familiar?
  • Who are the ‘cybercriminals’?
  • What are the causes and motivations behind their offending?
  • What are the experiences of the victims of such crimes?
  • What distinctive challenges do such crimes present for criminal justice and law enforcement?
  • How are policy-makers, legislators, police, courts, business organizations and others responding?
  • How are such responses shaped by popular perceptions of computer crime and computer criminals?
  • How is cybercrime shaping the future development and use of the internet itself?
There now exists a considerable literature addressing such issues, drawn from a wide range of disciplines including criminology, sociology, law and socio-legal studies, political science, political economy, cultural and media studies, science and technology studies, business and management, and computing. The ever-expanding range of such material, along with its dispersal across different disciplinary boundaries, makes it difficult for the newcomer to find an accessible route into current debates. This difficulty is exacerbated by the fact that cybercrime refers not so much to a single, distinctive kind of criminal activity, but more to a diverse range of illegal and illicit activities that share in common the unique electronic environment (‘cyberspace’) in which they take place. Consequently, different academic contributions tend to focus on some selected aspects of the cybercrime problem, to the detriment or neglect of others. Hence the purpose of the present volume, which is conceived as a thorough and up-to-date introduction to the range of issues, questions and debates about cybercrime that have come to characterize it as a field of study. Out of necessity, we draw upon theoretical and empirical contributions from different areas of scholarship, but with the main focus falling upon criminology and sociology, the two areas that comprise our own primary fields of expertise. The following chapters will furnish a critical introduction to a variety of substantive issues. Many of them focus on recognizably different kinds of cybercriminal activity, such as piracy, hacking, e-fraud, cyberstalking and cyberterrorism; each is examined and analysed in light of the social, political, economic and cultural context in which it takes shape. Other chapters consider debates of a more general nature, addressing, for example, the tensions apparent between internet security and policing, on the one hand, and individual rights, freedoms and liberties, on the other. Given the range of issues to be covered, their treatment cannot be exhaustive. Hence each chapter contains guidance for further, more in-depth reading, which can be found both in conventional print form and online.
Before we can move on to these more detailed examinations, however, there are a number of important issues of background and context that must be outlined, and some important conceptual issues that must be tackled. Therefore, the remainder of this chapter will situate cybercrime in relation to the growth and development of the internet, and ask questions about how we might best classify cybercriminal activities, and why it is that cybercrime might need to be viewed as qualitatively different from other kinds of criminal and illicit activity.

1.3 A Brief History and Analysis of the Internet

An examination of cybercrime ought to begin with the internet, for the simple reason that without the latter, the former could and would not exist. It is the internet that provides the crucial electronically generated environment in which cybercrime takes place. Moreover, the internet should not be viewed as simply a piece of technology, a kind of ‘blank slate’ that exists apart from the people who use it. Rather, it needs to be seen as a set of social practices – the internet takes the form that it does because people use it in particular ways and for particular purposes (Snyder, 2001). What people do with the internet, and how they typically go about it, are crucial for understanding what kind of phenomenon the internet actually is. Indeed, it is the kind of social uses to which we put the internet that create the possibilities of criminal and deviant activity. To give one example, if people didn’t use the internet for shopping, then there would be no opportunities for credit card crimes that exploit users’ financial information. These opportunities can potentially put millions of people’s sensitive data at risk like when the network of the Target retail chain was breached in 2013 and criminal actors absconded with potentially over a hundred million customers’ credit and debit card information (Kassner, 2015a). Similarly, it is because we use the internet for electronic communication with friends and colleagues that the Love Bug worm, which targeted the email systems we use for that purpose, could cause billions of dollars in damage.
The internet, as its name suggests, is in essence a computer network; or, to be more precise, a ‘network of networks’ (Castells, 2002). A network links computers together, enabling communication and information exchange between them. Many such networks of information and communication technology (ICT) have been in existence for decades – those of financial markets, the military, government departments, business organizations, universities and so on. The internet provides the means to link up the many and diverse networks already in existence, creating from them a single network that enables communication between any and all ‘nodes’ (e.g. individual computers) within it.
The origins of the internet can be traced to the development of the Semi-Autonomous Ground Environment (SAGE) system, which was an enemy bomber early warning and interception system developed by the US military in the 1950s. The system emerged from concerns over domestic bomber strikes such as those witnessed in World War II. As Thomas Rid (2016: 78) explains, ‘turning the entire North American continent into an air defense battery meant that radar stations, computers, and interceptors needed to be linked in real time and on a massive scale.’ The efforts involved in developing such a system were monumental at the time and ‘had a most surprising and underappreciated impact: it helped lay the foundation for networking computers, and ultimately for the internet’ (Rid, 2016: 79). In the 1960s, the US military, through its Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), would further explore the development of major computer networking systems. These efforts resulted in the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network or ARPANET (Hafner and Lyon, 1996). The aim was to establish a means by which the...