Impact of Cybercrimes and the Role of Cybercrime Law
The influence of the internet and technology has brought about the age of information and paperless transactions. Individuals do not need to visit libraries and search multiple piles of books anymore. Students can complete their research and academic writings while in front of a computer. Businessmen do not need to visit their clients to complete transactions and verify vital information. Stock traders no longer need to shout in the middle of Wall Street to sell their stocks and bonds. People can purchase anything on the internet and hire a delivery service to bring it to their doorstep. The internet has become a basic necessity for people and businesses.
These luxurious online services catch the attention of regular people since they allow them to do tasks on their smartphones or computers. However, the internet does not only entice regular people but also those with ill intent. The internet’s capacity to store endless information makes it a target for hackers and information thieves. The ability to complete transactions from any part of the world allows criminals to transfer their ill-gotten gains and remain anonymous. These cybercrimes have caused harmful impacts on the lives of many individuals. Criminals have committed cybercrimes that bankrupted businesses, exploited people, and even disrupted the flow of economies.
These cybercrimes are often outside the jurisdiction of regular laws. Criminals can exploit the gaps and holes present in the law and use it to exonerate them from their crimes. This led to the legislation of cybercrime laws. These laws help in making the internet safer from the influence of criminals. However, like regular laws, cybercriminals ignore these rules and continue to commit cybercrimes. They continue to spread the harmful impacts of cybercrime which further emphasizes the importance of cybercrime law to make the internet a safer place.
There are many forms of cybercrimes from simple cyberbullying and software piracy to human trafficking. Most cybercrimes are identical to traditional crimes. The only difference between the two is that cybercrimes involve the use of computers. Some individuals even call cybercrime “computer crimes” (Dennis, 2019). Most of the time, cybercrime is an extension of a traditional crime. A human trafficking organization can use the internet to sell women and children. They commit a traditional crime in the form of human trafficking and also indulge in cybercrime through the illegal nature of their online transactions.
The internet allows criminals to transact with other individuals from other regions and countries. This makes cybercrime a more complex subject since different countries have different legislation. A criminal may try to transact with an individual living in a country where cybercrime law does not exist. This creates a gray area where cybercriminals can operate without the fear of judiciary interruption. This is one of the reasons why governments started to legislate cybercrime laws. The cybercrime laws fill in the gray area that is outside the jurisdiction of traditional laws. The government made them specifically to target cybercriminal activities.
The Different Types of Cybercrimes
Like traditional crimes, cybercrimes have many forms. Some individuals may not even realize that they are committing a cybercrime. There are cybercrime types that seem harmless and most people may have committed some of them. Other types are more severe and can destroy the lives of different individuals. Endless streams of information fill the internet and certain individuals possess the knowledge to access them. They can use it to extort or threaten people. For an individual to understand the damage that cybercrime can inflict, they should also be aware of its different forms.
Digital Theft and Software Piracy
The most common form of cybercrime is digital theft and software piracy. These are simple and easy activities that can seem harmless. Digital theft can include using a copyrighted image, video, or audio clip for financial gain. If an individual is not careful, they can accidentally commit this cybercrime. If a person is creating a website or a Youtube video, they will need to look for digital materials to use. They may find video clips and music that perfectly fits their idea. However, these clips and music may be subject to copyright. The owner of the copyrighted materials can sue and take legal actions against them if they proceed with using the materials.
A more severe example of digital theft is identity theft. As stated above, people have filled the internet with various information both public and personal. Cybercriminals can use different methods to extract information from social media, websites, and other online mediums. They can access an individual’s private information and use it to commit various crimes. Cybercriminals will use a victim’s identity for a long time without their knowledge. This makes this form of cybercrime daunting since an individual may be unaware that a criminal is using their name.
Software piracy is a common practice in third-world countries. It is simply the act of downloading and distributing software on the internet. Pirated software can be movies, music, video games, and programs that individuals download illegally. There are “torrent” websites that are easily accessible to the public that provides pirated software. In third-world countries, people often download unlicensed operating systems, movies, and video games. Individuals have to buy these programs before they can use them. However, software piracy allows people to download them for free which is technically a form of theft.
The CyberCrime Prevention Act of 2012 is a cybercrime law that punishes individuals who acquire pirated copies of digital materials. The individual will have to pay a fine between $4,470 to $11,175 and spend six to 20 years in jail. Governments have also tried to take down websites that allowed the public to download pirated software. This effort seems fruitless since the pirate websites can change their domains and continue to provide their illegal services. Still, officials continue to look and shut down these websites despite their ability to quickly change domains.
Most people are familiar with computer viruses. These are programs that a person can accidentally download. Computer viruses can destroy a computer’s software and hardware, rendering it useless to the owner. However, there are other types of malicious software that cybercriminals use to exploit people. Some viruses can search a person’s computer for private information, such as bank account details and passwords.
There is malicious software that disguises as common applications. However, once an individual has downloaded them, the malware will begin to gather information or use the victim’s computer for other purposes. An example of this is malware that hackers placed in pirated video games and software (Shead, 2021). Once a person installs the malware-infected program, it uses the victim’s computer for crypto mining which is an act to retrieve cryptocurrencies online. Hackers use this method to mine cryptocurrency and earn millions. While crypto mining is not illegal, the act of using an individual’s computer without their knowledge is a cybercrime.
Another form of malicious software is ransomware. Cybercriminals use ransomware to withhold data from individuals in exchange for a ransom. A cybercriminal can also use ransomware to blackmail someone. The ransomware gives these cybercriminals access to personal and valuable data. One can view ransomware as an online robbery where the robber points a gun at the victim and force them to hand over cash. Cybercriminals who use ransomware often target large institutions like schools, governments, and businesses. These institutions hold valuable data and they will pay a lot to retrieve them.
Hackers can produce different malicious programs that threaten the properties of individuals and the government. One case is when David L. Smith distributed the “Melissa” virus on the internet. The “Melissa” virus was responsible for more than $80 million in damages. The virus adversely affected both private and government computers. The government sentenced David L. Smith to five years in jail and fined him $250,000 (Virus a Retrospective, Legal Implications, n.d.). While the case shows the grave consequences of creating a virus, the variation of cybercrime laws in different countries makes dealing with viruses complex.
Another form of cybercrime is social engineering. The term has a different meaning in social and political science. In cybersecurity, experts use the term “social engineering” to refer to the act of obtaining information from a person by fooling them (Conteh & Royer, n.d.). Cybercriminals use social engineering to scam vulnerable individuals into giving personal information. Cybercriminals try to provoke the emotions of their victim to make them susceptible to manipulations. This form of cybercrime targets the individual who is using the computer rather than infecting the device. Social engineering exploits the vulnerability of people. This is why the common victims of social engineering are children and the elderly.
Cybercriminals use various social engineering tactics to obtain information. A common method is “phishing” where a cybercriminal uses a fake email. The email will look like it came from a legitimate source. It can contain the logo of a trusted brand or person and attempts to retrieve information from the recipient. If a person fails to notice the discrepancy in the email’s name they may potentially give private information. Another method form of social engineering is “catfishing”. “Catfishing” is when a person disguises themselves as someone else. Cybercriminals can create social media profiles and use the photos of another person. This is similar to identity theft except that in social engineering, a cybercriminal uses the fake identity to gather information than use it to commit the actual cybercrimes.
Cybercrimes that are under the social engineering type tend to not require any technical expertise to perform. Any person can create a fake email or social media account. Since people like to post their photos and status online, cybercriminals have a plethora of images and persona to choose from. Social engineering can also occur outside the internet. A person using a laptop in an internet cafe may be susceptible to “shoulder surfing”. This is when a person watches someone input their username and password then use this knowledge to access the account without the owner’s permission. This can be a friend, a colleague, or even a stranger asking for help.
Like other cybercrimes, a person who performs social engineer is subject to legal penalties. Governments legislated cybercrime laws against social engineering acts like “phishing” and “catfishing”. Cybercriminals can go to jail for up to five years and be subject to a fine of $10,000 or more. If the cybercrime caused a victim to lose money, the law requires the cybercriminal to pay restitution. If a state or a country does not have cybercrime laws against social engineering acts, they may be able to use different laws like wire fraud (Theoharis, n.d.). Legislative bodies continue to update and create cybercrime laws to regulate the growing number of cybercrimes.
Criminal hacking is the most infamous cybercrime. People have watched multiple movies that showcase hacking and its potential threat. While movies create a fake impression of how hacking works, the threat of hacking on government intelligence and businesses are real. Hacking is the act of accessing a computer or computer network without the owner’s consent (Norwich University Online, 2020). Hacking requires a person to have deep knowledge and expertise in how the internet operates. Most of the time, hackers are also the individuals responsible for creating malware. They look for weak points in a system or network and use them as an entry point to access valuable information. A hacker can exploit an individual or business, plant malicious software within a system, and steal valuable data.
Cybercrime laws against hacking indicate varying degrees of computer crime from 1st-degree to 5th-degree, with 1st degree being the highest. The penalty of the crime depends on the damage that the hacker inflicted on a person, property, or computer service. The 5th-degree penalizes the defendant with up to a six-month jail time and a fine of up to $1,000. The 1st-degree penalizes the defendant with up to a 20-year jail time and a fine of up to $15,000. These penalties are related to the value of the damages which ranges from less than $500 for the 5th-degree and more than $10,000 for the 1st-degree. (Reinhart, C. 2012). The varying degrees show the different gravity of hacking and how much it can harm the public.
The Impacts of Cybercrimes
Cybercriminals interrupt and harm the livelihood of different individuals. They take advantage of people’s reliance on the internet to keep assets safe and accessible. This reliance along with the cybercriminals’ ill-intent results in losses and damages. Cybercriminals can steal a private individual’s savings and destroy their hardware. They can exploit businesses and organizations into paying money in exchange for the return of valuable data. This can lead to different types of damages like reputational and financial. These impacts force individuals and organizations to adapt their practices and allot resources to combat cybercrimes.
Cybercrimes like hacking, malicious software, and social engineering can result in financial damage. Hackers can infiltrate a bank’s network and manipulate bank statements. They can create transactions and steal from bank accounts. Malicious software can physically harm a computer and make it unusable for the owner. This prevents an individual to work and can also lead to loss of information. Cybercriminals that indulge in social engineering practices can exploit individuals or businesses resulting in financial damages. The financial damages that result from cybercrime forces organizations to spend amounts of up to more than five million dollars.
Lost of Intellectual Property
Intellectual properties are an individual or organization’s intangible assets. They mostly store intellectual property online, inside “cloud storages”. Intellectual properties can be new product designs, machine blueprints, business strategies, and other trademarkable properties (The Investopedia team, 2021). Cybercriminals can gain unauthorized access to these “cloud storages” and steal trade secrets. Businesses can lose their technology blueprints and designs to cybercriminals. Even private individuals who are working with personal projects are susceptible to cyberattacks that aim to steal intellectual property.
Damage to a Business or Person’s Reputation
Cybercrimes do not only harm a business’s financial and physical assets but also the public’s perception of the company. The company can lose the public’s trust when a cybercriminal attacks a business and it results in grievous damages. For example, a banking institution holds multiple saving accounts of different individuals. If a cyberattack causes some individuals to lose money, people will panic and may decide to withdraw their savings and transfer them to other institutions. This loss of public trust will lead to more financial damages and can cause an institution to close.
Another example of this is when cybercriminals attacked the financial network of JPMorgan Chase & Co. in 2014. Cybercriminals gained access to 76 million customers’ private information and seven million business accounts (The Investopedia Team, 2021). This cyberattack caused the majority of the public to lose trust in JPMorgan Chase & Co. The lack of trust from cybercrime’s reputational damage can also influence company investors. An investor will unlikely finance a business that has lost the public’s trust. This will also lead a company’s market value to go down, further damaging the assets of the business.
Additional Security Cost
Companies are allotting budgets for cybersecurity as the rate of cybercrimes continues to rise. They will need to hire IT experts to help prevent cyberattacks and ensure that employees do not accidentally download malicious software on the company’s network. They will also need to hire lawyers to ensure that their organization complies with cybercrime laws (The Investopedia Team, 2021). These cybersecurity costs are separate from the traditional security cost. Besides the CCTV cameras and security guards in the office, cybercrime forces companies to spend additional costs on antivirus and cybersecurity experts.
Companies that suffer from cyberattacks may also need to pay back customers that becomes a victim of cyberattacks. For example, a financial institution may lose some of its customers’ assets due to a cyberattack. Cybercrime laws may require the institution to pay reparation fees to the victims to avoid civil cases. This can cause a company to lose hundreds of millions of dollars. This does not include the cost of the additional marketing that the company will need to repair its public image.
The Role of Cybercrime Law
Governments have legislated various cybercrime laws to combat the varying degrees of cybercrimes. Cybercrime laws provide the standards that people must follow when using the internet. It provides the definition of cybercrimes and the repercussions of engaging with them. The standards that cybercrime laws provide also indicate people’s responsibilities when using the internet. There are varying levels in cybercrime law which include substantive, procedural, and preventive law (E4J University Module Series: Cybercrime, n.d.). These laws compose the different categories on when a governing body can implement cybercrime laws.
Substantive cybercrime laws are prohibitions against all cybercrime types. They define cybercrimes and their punishments. Substantive cybercrime laws tell people how to act online and provide their duties as users. Procedural cybercrime laws consist of laws that protect the rights of defendants. It includes the due process and the judicial body’s proper handling of suspects. Preventive cybercrime laws are regulations that help the public reduce the risk and damages of cybercrimes. This includes data protection and cybersecurity laws that protect businesses’ and customers’ interests (E4J University Module Series: Cybercrime, n.d.). Together, these cybercrime laws form a system that protects public interest as well as punishes cybercriminals.
Cybercrimes will continue to exist along with traditional crimes. Criminals will commit illegal acts as long as there is an opportunity for profit. This is also true with cybercriminals. People’s reliance on the internet will continue to grow which provide more opportunities for cybercrime. The different types of cybercrime show the methods that cybercriminals utilize. Cybercrimes like social engineering show how easy it is for an individual to commit cybercrime without technical expertise. While hacking shows how damaging a cyberattack can be for an individual or business. The legislation of cybercrime laws has equipped the public with the means to combat these crimes.
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