09 October 2006

Cyber Crime — age no bar

Cyber Crime — age no bar;place no bar; technology will do

Reports on criminal activities involving technology are now creeping in to top news in the media. More and more people are aware of identity scams, phishing mails and credit card data thefts. But even some modern online business concepts, tools and programs were not identified to be of criminal nature when they first showed up their presence.

According to Computer Crime Research Centre news, among people caught as cyber criminals, the youngest was a 14-year-old middle school student while the oldest is a sexagenarian man arrested for illegally accessing his former company's data system. So when it comes to cyber crime age seems no bar. Just last month a 17-year-old boy stole personal details of one of his teachers from an online networking community site called myspace.com. He used this information to impersonate his teacher and send inappropriate messages to other students through the same site. He was arrested on suspicion and the case is still going on.

Consider three incidents, each being a different criminal activity involving technology, all qualifying to be named as cyber crimes. Music rocks the world beyond borders, but the modern MP3 (MPEG-Motion Pictures Experts Group-layer 3) format became a phenomenon for easy and free music sharing. A high school student named Shawn Fanning, started Napster.com in May 1999, built on a program that enabled peer-to-peer file sharing through the Internet.

Music 'free ride' began gaining momentum, while the artistes and recording companies reacted with a legal suit. After a court order to protect Intellectual Property Right through copyright system, napster was shutdown to the disappointment of 80 million registered users. Still it paved the way for a new range of file-sharing services conceptualised by KaZaa, BearShare, Shareaza, Ares, Limewire, Morpheus etc. While Amazon, eBay, yahoo CNN and many other online entities were steadily building e-commerce systems and operating as successful business models, there came a stern warning from criminals in February 2000.

A series of cyber attacks called 'denial of service' launched on these websites overloaded their systems and choked their online communications. Legitimate users couldn't get access to their services from any of these sites for a brief period of time. Apart from loss of business, a serious blemish stained public trust in online commerce activities.Infection of computer virus spread like instant infection with the 'I Love You' computer virus in May 2000. Computing machines across the continents were infected and paralysed, crippling vital information and communication systems.

According to a research firm over 45 million computers around the world were affected by various strains of this virus, with financial damage being estimated to be over $10 billion. Way back in 1981, the first virus attacking Apple computer Elk Cloner harmlessly displayed the message "It will get on all your disks; It will infiltrate your chips. Yes it's Cloner" and spread through floppy disks. They have progressed far since then, in their range, reach, motive and proficiency.

During the 1970s and 1980s disgruntled employees were known to tamper data archives and sabotage computer systems for vendetta. Later on, brilliant programmers created virus that hampered other systems for mere fun while malicious programmers accessed restricted systems to exhibit their intellectual capabilities.

Modern crimes have become more sophisticated and well organised as there is alluring opportunities to make money fraudulently. While only few of these crimes reach the media many go unreported. Electronic crime most often creates loss of data, transaction or business. But most often it diminishes public trust and the business looses its credibility as the criminal attacks expose the vulnerability of their systems. All goodwill that is built over the years may be lost in no matter of time. Next week let us get to know more about cyber criminals.

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