What is Computer Crime?

What image originates to mind when you hear the term Computer Crime? One may think of the hackers, which are locked up in a dark bedroom littered with diet soda cans, accessing top-secret files on super-secret government computers. The computer crime has different meanings depending on the situation, the person, and their individual frame of reference. The investigation of computer crime didn’t require the involvement of many different communities, like law enforcement, private security, prosecutors or network administrators. However, computer crime is by its very nature, it is not restricted by conventional or physical borders.

Donn Parker is generally cited as the author that presented the first definitional categories for computer crime. He clearly favors the term computer abuse as a higher-level definition and describes it as “…any incident involving an intentional act where a victim suffered or could have suffered a loss, and an offender created or may have created a gain and is related to computers”.

Robert Taylor and company expand on Parker’s definitions and present four categories of computer crime –

  • The computer as a target: The attack seeks to deny the legitimate users or owners of the system access to their data or computers. A Denial-of-Service (a.k.a., DOS or DDOS) attack or a virus that renders the computer inoperable would be examples of this category.
  • The computer as an instrument of the crime: The computer is used to gain some information or data which are further used for criminal objective. For example, a hacker may use a computer system to steal personal information.
  • The computer as incidental to a crime: Sometimes a computer may not the primary instrument of the crime; it simply can facilitate it. Money laundering and the trading of child pornography would be examples of this category.
  • Crimes associated with the prevalence of computers: This includes the crimes against the computer industry, such as intellectual property theft and software piracy etc.

Here, in Taylor’s definition, we see that the focus remains on the technology, but the definitional categories have been more clearly outlined.

Majid Yar presents an argument that supports the proposition that computer-crime/cybercrime are ill-defined and problematic terms: “A primary problem for the analysis of cybercrime is the absence of a consistent current definition, even amongst those law enforcement agencies charged with tackling it.”

Based on the preceding statement, he presents Wall’s four legal categories for cyber crime –

  • Cyber-trespass: Crossing boundaries into other people’s property and/or causing damage—for example, hacking, defacement, and viruses.
  • Cyber-deceptions and thefts: Stealing (money, property)—for instance, credit card fraud and intellectual property violations (a.k.a., “piracy”).
  • Cyber-pornography: Activities that breach laws regarding obscenity and decency.
  • Cyber-violence: Doing psychological harm to, or inciting physical harm against others, thereby breaching laws pertaining to the protection of the person—for example, hate speech and stalking.


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