What Is Cyber Crime?

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A comment to my post, Dangers of Cyber Crime on the Rise, asked: What exactly is cyber crime?


It's a good question. Cyber crime is a term that gets tossed about freely, but as Symantec stated, defining cybercrime is complicated:


Like traditional crime, cybercrime can take many shapes and can occur nearly anytime or anyplace. Criminals committing cybercrime use a number of methods, depending on their skill-set and their goal. This should not be surprising: cybercrime is, after all, simply 'crime' with some sort of 'computer' or 'cyber' aspect. . . . Symantec draws from the many definitions of cybercrime and defines it concisely as any crime that is committed using a computer or network, or hardware device. The computer or device may be the agent of the crime, the facilitator of the crime, or the target of the crime. The crime may take place on the computer alone or in addition to other locations.


Hence, cyber crime can be having your laptop stolen or terrorist threats, as well as financial fraud and ID theft. And as Steve Strauss wrote at USA Today, businesses and consumers are not protected in the same way:


Consider the recent story about a dental group in Missouri that discovered one morning that more than $200,000 had been illegally transferred out of its bank account. To make matters worse, the dentists also found out that, unlike consumers, small businesses do not get the same protections afforded consumers who are the victim of online fraud. If your credit card is stolen, and you report it promptly, your out-of-pocket loss is capped at $50.


Such is not the case with illegal commercial wire transfers.


According to Brian Krebs, a journalist who has covered this issue extensively, "Most companies that get hit with this type of fraud quickly figure out that their banks are under no legal obligation to reimburse them."

Perhaps the best understanding of what cyber crime is comes from the FBI, which came up with a list of the roles within crime organizations. As reported by Computerworld, those roles include:


  • Coders, who write the exploits and malware.
  • Distributors, who trade and sell stolen data.
  • Tech experts, who maintain the criminal enterprise's IT infrastructure.
  • Hosted system providers, who offer illicit content servers.
  • Cashiers, who control drop accounts and provide names and accounts to other criminals for a fee.