History of Computer and Cyber Crime
We must first begin any discussion involving cyber crime with a definition of what exactly is cybercrime. According to Britz (2009), cybercrime is a term that is used to describe any criminal activity that is perpetrated through or facilitated by the internet. This definition contains an extremely important point, to be a cybercrime, the crime must involve the internet in one way or another. But before we delve too deep into what exactly cybercrime involves, let us take a look at a few other important terms. First is the definition of Crime. Crime is any activity or conduct that has been deemed unacceptable by society because of the ability to disrupt order (Brenner, 2010).
Second is Computer related Crime. Computer related crime, is any crime that involves the use of a computer peripherally, meaning that a computer was used but may not have been the main medium to carry out the criminal act (Britz, 2009). Lastly, is computer crime. Computer Crime is generally defined as any crime that is committed using a computer or digital device as the main medium to carry out the crime. Computer crime may or may not involve the use of the internet but does include theft, counterfeiting, and child pornography, just to name a few (Britz, 2009). These definitions are broad, but breadth is needed in an area that can change technologically in weeks or months. Now that a few important definitions are defined, computer crime can be discussed in more detail.
The origins of computer crime may date back to the invention of the computer in the 1940’s, but the true computer crime did not begin until the advent of the mainframe in the 1950’s. There was no internet and no interconnecting of different mainframes at this early stage of development. The mainframes were large computers and had to be housed in large rooms with lots of air conditioning, as the mainframes would heat up quickly and heat could destroy the million dollar machines. These mainframes were owned by businesses and only a select number of people had access. The mainframes worked by using a set of punch cards. A customer would provide the owner of the mainframe with a set of data and an operator would then use a punch card machine to make the appropriate punch cards for the computer to read. After the punch cards were produced another operator would then feed the cards into the mainframe and spit out the results (Brenner, 2010). This complex system with limited amount of access meant that typically insiders were the only persons with the knowledge, ability, and access to commit computer crime. Most of the crimes committed during this time were fraud or embezzlement (Britz, 2009).
One such case happened in the 1960’s. Val Smith, an accountant in a small town, owned a UNIVAC system and utilized the computing capabilities of the mainframe to provide customers with computing services. After many years of providing computing services to his customers, Smith began to feel like his time and efforts were not being rewarded by his customers in an appropriate financial way. So Smith decided to use his mainframe to bilk his customers out of millions of dollars. This was an easy crime for Smith to commit, as it was believed at the time any numbers that came from a computer were infallible. After stealing the desired amount of money, Smith made an error that he knew would be caught believing that he would only be sentenced to 18 months in jail, however, the judge imposed a sentence of 10 years. Smith was paroled after 5 years and never had to work again, thanks to one million dollars. All of which was tax free (Brenner, 2010). There are too many of these cases to list in this paper, but I wanted to give an idea of what a fraud or embezzlement case involved.
As technology involving computers began to increase, at a breakneck pace, the availability of computing devices became more affordable. This meant that more and more businesses were able to purchase and use computers in their day to day operations, and more and more people had access to, and knowledge of, computing devices. By the 1980’s, the advent of the micro-processor made computers smaller and individuals were able to own personal computers and use them in their homes. These computers were expensive and the opportunity for people to commit financial crimes increased (Britz, 2009). Literature did not provide reliable statistics on the different types of financial crimes or computer crimes before 1990 and the advent of the internet.
It was not until the advent of the internet that computer crime became cybercrime and problem that could affect anyone at any time. The internet was invented and used by the US Military as a way to link all of its radar stations together to better defend against a Soviet nuclear attack. This work began in the 1950’s and by the time that the internet was rolled out for use by the public in the 1990’s, personal computers were becoming household staples (Ryan, 2010). Businesses were forming all around the internet and people began to use the internet for many of their daily needs.
Individuals were using computers to keep track of finances, do their taxes, and play games. People began to keep personal data stored on computers, such as bank account numbers and social security numbers. When these personal computers were hooked up to the new medium called the internet, it did not take persons with computer knowledge long to figure out how to exploit fellow users information (Jewkes, 2009) and crimes like identity theft and bank fraud began to rise (Brenner, 2010).
Britz (2009) noted that Americans alone reported more than 200,000 complaints of online fraud. The most popular form of online fraud was online auction fraud. This type of fraud culminated in over 44% of the total fraud reported in 2009. The author also stated that Americans reported over $200 million in losses to online fraud. Other complaints that people reported being victims of were check fraud, credit/debit card fraud, computer fraud, and non-delivery of merchandise. For the duration of this paper, only crimes that involve the internet, specifically child pornography/exploitation or fraud will be examined, as these are the most likely types of offenders a parole agent is to receive on supervision who may have internet based offenses or internet usage restrictions.
By 2010, the personal computer had overtaken the large mainframe computers in sales (Ryan, 2010). A large part of this was because of the roll out and expansion of the internet as a medium that could be accessed anywhere by anyone. It took the internet just three years to reach 50 million users. To put this in perspective, it took television 15 years to reach that milestone (Jewkes, 2009). By 2009, North America alone had 74.4 percent of its population plugged into the internet, according to Jewkes (2009). With the explosion of the internet medium, its global reach, and ease of use, computer users became perfect targets for cyber-criminals. Much of this was attributed to the newness of the technology and no real security implementations existed at this time. Unfortunately, the technological advancement of personal computers and the internet also opened up a new market to an old trade, child pornography and exploitation.
Child exploitation has been around for centuries. It is common knowledge in academia that Roman soldiers and leaders kept pubescent boys as slaves and often used the children as sexual partners to satisfy lustful desires while traveling across the empire (Lascaratos & Poulakou-Rebelakou, 2000). Up until the early 20th Century, in the United States, it was perfectly normal for a 13 or 14 year old girl to be married off to an older male, so they could birth children as a source of labor for farms. Child exploitation in these times were limited to particular situations and places. The abuse took place in the home, at religious institutions, school, or a community members home (Ferraro, 2005). However, with the advent of the camera in the mid-19th Century, it became possible for persons to obtain pornographic images and view them repeatedly in the privacy of their own homes. As decades passed, people who had desires or urges and found pleasure through the participation and/or viewing of child pornography, were literally set free from the restraints of having to go out to find and groom victims to satisfy their illicit desires. Things relatively remained the same for the next 150 years or so. The internet changed all of that, linking people all over the world with the strokes of a few keys on a computer. People located in different parts of the world were able to communicate and share common beliefs and practices in seconds (Ferraro, 2005). This literally was a child pornography lover’s dream and they made sure full advantage was taken of this opportunity.
According to a US Department of Justice website (2014), 1 in 25 youth internet users received an aggressive online solicitation, where the perpetrator attempted to set up a face to face meeting. Another statistic shows that up to 9% of all youth internet users are exposed to graphic sexual material online. In 27% of cases where solicitors contacted youths on line, the solicitors asked for sexual photographs of the youth. And in a study (Wolak, Finkelhor, & Mitchell, 2004 and Mitchell, 2004) titled “Internet Initiated Sex Crimes Against Minors: Implications for Prevention Based on Findings from a National Study”, of 129 child victims identified, 67% were between the ages of 12-15 and the first encounter was in an internet chat room for 76%. 74% of the victims ended up having face to face meetings with the solicitor, and 93% of those meetings ended up in a sexual encounter. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children claim on their website to have scanned over 90 million images of possible child victims since 2000. Specific details about crimes involving child pornography or exploitation will not be examined because of the graphic content involved in many of these cases.