Computer crime essay sample:
With the dramatic development in the technology of computers and communications, the world has certainly benefited a lot, but the price might also be very expensive. Computer crimes are now becoming very serious problems that are costing up to billions of dollars. The US, where the computer was invented and where the Internet was developed, is considered to be the motherland of the worst computer crimes so far. Other countries are also contracting this problem as their governments, businesses and individuals become more dependent on computers and networks. Computer crimes are threatening the future of communication, confidentiality and even the integrity of businesses and organizations.
When people think of computer crimes, many are inclined to think of computer theft, that is, when a person carries a computer, a notebook or a laptop that does not belong to him and goes away with it. This is actually true, because the theft of hardware and computers is still considered to be common in many countries, especially the theft of portable computers that are very light, small and easy to carry. However, computer crimes are in fact much more complicated and dangerous than just stealing a computer.
The world today is becoming a smaller and at the same time, connected village, mainly because of the Internet. Thousands of companies, organizations and agencies, in addition to millions of people all over the world are able to contact each other and to communicate through the computer and the Internet. It is through the phone and the computer that some of the worst crimes are taking place. By definition, a computer crime takes place when an unauthorized person reaches information and data that he was not supposed to reach, or when an individual inflicts damage on the files, systems and networks of others on purpose. These crimes are now becoming serious felonies that lead to imprisonment and heavy fines in countries such as the US, where the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) is the agency responsible for handling such cases.
In 1997, more than 75% of all American companies reported that they had been victims of computer crimes. The cost of these crimes were an average of about $400,000 per company. The most common crimes were hardware theft, computer viruses and unauthorized access to data and information. Those who steal hardware are conventionally known as thieves, whereas those who criminally use viruses or try to break into networks and systems are known as computer hackers.
Theft of hardware, although very common, is not a very serious problem. A computer that is stolen, or a printer that disappears can always be replaced. The cost is always known, and the consequences can be made up for. However, in the case of a computer crime that involves breaking into the data system of the company, the results are usually out of control. It is not possible to find out the size of damage done to a company whose files have been stolen until a very long time to pass, especially that the company might not be aware of the crime at the time it happens.
Computer hackers commit their crimes in a variety of ways. One common way is installing a virus program inside a network of a certain company. This virus program then starts recording all kinds of passwords used in the system, and passes them to the hackers. Later on, the hacker breaks into the security systems of the company and reaches access to any information that might be hidden away by the company on its computers.
Another way is to install computer viruses on the company’s network. These virus programs may be programmed to start working at a specific time or when a specific application is run, or when a specific file is opened. When the virus activates, it might do the kind of damage that it was designed for. For example, it might delete some or all kinds of files on the computer. It might make the applications run in a distorted way, or it might simply destroy the whole system, making the computer impossible to operate. In either case, valuable information is lost, as well as valuable applications that require a lot of money and time to repair.
Files visited by hackers may contain sensitive information about clients, allies, and competitors, and their fall in the wrong hands can be disastrous for the victim company. A victim company might lose its customers to its competitors and might even lose major projects if such information leaks out to unauthorized parties. The dollar measurement of such damage is not always possible, but it is usually very huge.
It was traditionally believed that only large companies and organizations represented attractive targets for hackers, especially that the information that they would get out of there might be valuable and worthy. However, recent developments show that no one is safe when it comes to computer crimes, not even simple individuals in their homes are simply working on their computers for personal use.
Furthermore, computer crimes are now committed on a mass level. For example, a virus might be sent through e-mail to thousands if not millions of individuals, groups, organizations, governments and agencies at the same time. This is known as spamming, a term that is very closely related to junk mail, where computer criminals can reach e-mail addresses of users and then start to mail unwanted material and advertisements to these addresses. This too is considered to be a federal computer crime because it involves an assault on privacy.
To make the situation worse, computer specialists claim that there is no magic solution. The possibility of computer crime is always there, and the only way to reduce its occurrence is through awareness of users. Awareness is, however, the first step, and alone, it can do nothing. Potential victims, especially companies and organizations that have valuable and sensitive data on their computers have to resort to managerial and technological strategies in order to deal with computer crimes.
Technologically, there are a few methods to face computer crimes. One method is to use security systems, but these are very expensive. An effective security system can cost up to $20,000 and still, the possibility that this system might be broken through remains large. As a matter of fact, the use of security systems such as firewalls may also be difficult and ineffective. Firewalls are special security programs that stand between the computer databases and the Internet to prevent unauthorized external users from reaching information. However, these firewalls may not work if the user does not make sure that all the components of the security system are activated. Users often underestimate the danger and do not attend to such time-consuming tasks, which makes firewalls ineffective.
In addition to this, anti-virus programs that hunt viruses and prevent them from entering the system may not always be effective. Everyday, new virus programs are created, which means that the company has to update its anti-virus systems almost weekly or monthly. Besides, there are very dangerous viruses which may not have anti-virus programs to stop them. This makes security through technology another serious issue.
Since viruses do not only come from the Internet but also from infected floppy disks and programs, it is necessary to scan every program, disk or application that comes from outside. Many viruses are inserted into systems by mistake because a user was not aware that there was a virus on the disk, program or application. Scanning is therefore necessary, although scanning programs may not be acquainted with all kinds of viruses.
The human factor in fighting computer crime remains crucial. It has been found out that most computer hackers were able to commit their crimes because of information they received on the phone from employees inside companies who were not aware that the information they were giving could be used for hacking purposes. Therefore, training employees how to handle phone calls is a very important defense mechanism against computer crimes.
Another problem is that there are employees who leave their companies and the turn in sensitive information about the systems of the company to interested hackers. To face this problem, companies should continuously change their passwords whenever old employees quit their jobs. Furthermore, companies should always check on those employees who may be a source of suspect, especially employees who have access to systems, or who come first thing in the morning and leave last in the evening or at night.
In addition to this, individuals, companies or agencies who use credit cards on the Internet for shopping or commercial purposes should make sure that the other party receiving the payment on the Internet is trustworthy. Several shopping sites on the Internet such as Excite have already set up security shopping zones to prevent hackers from getting the passwords to credit cards of shoppers. Individuals are also advised to have special cards with limited accounts for Internet purposes because it is impossible to guarantee that the password will not fall in the wrong hands.
It is impossible to be safe from computer crimes, especially when using the Internet, modem or even when having many employees who have access to databases. Prevention is always important, but the possibility that an individual, company, agency or organization might at any time fall a victim to computer crimes is always there. Technological and managerial solutions should be used, although they may not be sufficient. Federal laws protecting victims from computer crimes are still under development, but until then, every user logging into the Internet or saving important data on computers has to be very careful in protecting this data. Computer crimes may not appear as dangerous as homicide, but they are certainly very costly, and sometimes their influence might be disastrous for thousands of people working in a company or organization, not to mention governments.