Computer Crime Computer Crime Billions of dollars in losses have already been discovered. Billions more have gone undetected. Trillions will be stolen, most without detection, by the emerging master criminal of the twenty-first century–the computer crime offender. Worst of all, anyone who is computer literate can become a computer criminal. He or she is everyman, everywoman, or even everychild.
The crime itself will often be virtual in nature–sometimes recorded, more often not–occurring only on the Internet, with the only record being electronic impulses. Before discussing Internet crimes, we can expect to see in the years ahead, let’s look at the good news: The most-dreaded types of offenses–crimes such as murder, rape, assault, robbery, burglary, and vehicle theft–will be brought under control in the years ahead by a combination of technology and proactive community policing. Creation of the cashless society, for example, will eliminate most of the rewards for robbers and muggers, while computer-controlled smart houses and cars will thwart burglars and auto thieves. Implanted bodily function monitors and chemical drips (such as sober-up drugs and synthesized hormones) will keep most of the sexually and physically violent offenders under control. But computer criminals–ranging in age from preteen to senior citizen–will have ample opportunities to violate citizens’ rights for fun and profit, and stopping them will require much more effort.
Currently, we have only primitive knowledge about these lawbreakers: Typically, they are seen only as nuisances or even admired as innovators or computer whizzes. But increasingly, the hacker is being replaced by the menacing cracker–an individual or member of a group intent on using the Internet for illegal profit or terrorism. Access to the Internet has begun to expand geometrically, and technology is making the Internet even more friendly and affordable for millions of users. But foolproof protective systems can probably never be developed, although some high-tech entrepreneurs are certainly trying. Even if a totally secure system could ever be developed, it would likely disrupt the free flow of information–an unacceptable intrusion to most users. In fact, it is the ease of access that is driving this rapidly expanding field of crime. What are the major computer crimes being committed, how, and by whom? More importantly, where is computer crime headed in the twenty-first century? Let’s look at five crime categories: communications, government, business, stalking, and virtual crimes. COMMUNICATIONS CRIMES Already, cellular theft and phone fraud have become major crimes.
Low-tech thieves in airports and bus terminals use binoculars to steal calling-card access numbers as unsuspecting callers punch in their phone codes. Other thieves park vans beside busy interstate highways and use equipment obtained from shopping mall electronics stores to steal cellular phone access codes from the air. Within moments of these thefts, international calls are being made with the stolen numbers in what is becoming a multibillion-dollar-a-year criminal industry. Phone company employees, meanwhile, are also stealing and selling calling card numbers, resulting in more hundreds of millions of dollars in unauthorized calls. In 1994, an MCI engineer was charged with selling 60,000 calling card numbers for $3 to $5 each, resulting in more than $50 million in illegal long-distance charges. In another case, when a phone company tried to institute a call-forwarding program, crackers quickly defrauded the system of more money than the company stood to make in legal profits.
In the future, the opportunities for hacking and cracking will escalate, with telephones, computers, faxes, and televisions interconnected to provide instantaneous audiovisual communication and transmission of materials among individuals. The wide appeal of new multimedia communication systems will likely create such a huge volume of subscribers that the price will plummet and make access by all possible. But if billions of dollars of losses are to thieves, compounded by billions more required to repair damages created by system terrorists, the cost might become prohibitive to all but the wealthy. COMPUTER CRIMES AGAINST THE GOVERNMENT In 1995, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service instituted stringent new regulations on electronic tax filing and returns.
This move was to stop a rash of fraud that cost taxpayers millions in 1994: Returns that were processed quickly via this method turned out to be for tens of thousands of fictitious corporations and individuals. Similarly, in an attempt to stop food-stamp fraud, the government issued electronic debit cards to a trial population and plans to go nationwide with the system later in the decade. However, reports show that many recipients are selling their benefits for cash–50 to 60 on a dollar–to brokers who then receive full payment. Cyberpunks regularly break into government computer systems, usually out of curiosity and for the thrill of the challenge. They often intercept classified data and sometimes even interrupt and change systems. One U.S.
Justice Department official reported that military computers are the most vulnerable, even less secure than university computers. This official noted that, during Operation Desert Storm, hackers were able to track both actual and planned troop movements. James V. Christy II, director of an Air Force unit of computer-crime investigators, set up a team of hackers to test the security of military computer systems. He reported that the hackers broke into Pentagon systems within 15 seconds and went on to break into over 200 Air Force systems with no one reporting or even recognizing the break-ins. Ironically, computer hackers often beat the system using the very technology intended to stop them. For example, federal law-enforcement agencies use an Escrowed Encryption Standard to protect classified information and a chip-specific key to decrypt the system.
Experienced hackers can easily discover the key and use it to obtain passwords, gaining full access to encrypted systems. Newer, more-secure encryption systems for protecting government and international business transactions require storing the keys in escrow with a specific government agency–usually the U.S. Treasury Department. Hackers find this security solution unacceptable because it slows the free flow of information and puts almost all sensitive and important data in the hands of government officials. This is seen by many as being dangerous to individual freedoms and a major step in the direction of creating a class structure based on the information rich and information poor.
As more government data is stored in computers, protection will become both more vital and more difficult. When the livelihood of an individual depends on data in government computers, the temptation to adjust that record to increase benefits and reduce charges will be great. Many will try to do the adjusting themselves; others will be willing customers for a burgeoning black market of professional crackers. For those who have little need for government benefits but would like to eliminate their tax liability, a highly destructive method would be to plant a computer virus in government computers to destroy large numbers of records. In this way, suspicion would not fall on an individual.
TARGETING BUSINESS Today, most banking is done by electronic impulse, surpassing checks and cash by a wide margin. In the near future, nearly all business transactions will be electronic. Thus, access to business computers equals access to money. Recently, computer hacker John Lee, a founder of the infamous Masters of Deception hacker group, discussed his 10-year career, which began when he was 12 years old and included a one-year prison term in his late teens. Without admitting to any wrongdoing, Lee said that he could commit a crime with five keystrokes on the computer.
He could: (1) change credit records and bank balances; (2) get free limousines, airplane flights, hotel rooms, and meals without anyone being billed; (3) change utility and rent rates; (4) distribute computer software programs free to all on the Internet; and (5) easily obtain insider trading information. Though prison was no fun, Lee admitted that he would certainly be tempted to do it all again. In a groundbreaking study published in Criminal Justice Review in the spring of 1994, Jerome E. Jackson of the California State University at Fresno reported the results of a study of a new group of criminals he called fraud masters. These professional thieves obtain credit cards via fake applications, or by electronic theft, and pass them around among their peers internationally for profit.
These young men and women want the good life after growing up in poverty. They are proud of their skills of deception and arrogant enough to feel they won’t be caught. None of those in the five-year case study were caught. A …