Tackling cyber criminality
By Masud Khabeki
The communications technologies and the “information” of society have converged as never before in human history due to enormous advancements in recent years. This has given rise to the industrialization of many new types of crime as the commodity, personal information, moves far too quickly for conventional law enforcement methods to keep pace. Ironically, majority of the crime prevention methods are reactive in nature. For instance, even if we believe that the law enforcement has been using proactive approach to tackle this unprecedented problem, they would be finding difficulties to respond with millions of viruses and other types of malicious code that are in global circulation. Consequently, the authorities have more data on criminal activity at their disposal than ever before, and now have an opportunity to harness this information in ways which make intelligence development and investigation more streamlined and cost effective. Mobile Internet access and the continuing deployment of broadband Internet infrastructure throughout the world is instrumental to introduce new levels of vulnerability, with potential victims online for longer periods of time and capable of transmitting much more data than before and the increasing trend for outsourcing data management to third parties presents imminent risks to information security and data protection. Resultantly, Cyber-crime rates will continue to increase in line with Internet adoption.
No doubt, the world has completely entered the digital age where technology is ever-present and all pervasive. The development of technological innovations not only facilitated our daily lives, but also made significant contributions to criminality. Cybercrime has become a serious problem globally. The research needed to match the reality is struggling to keep up. There is a great need for more academics to get involved in cybercrime prevention and cyber security research. The work needs not only a criminological lens, but a multitude of lenses including legal, sociological, and political, in order for us to understand the impact of cybercrime across the globe. Existing literature on cybercrime is dominantly from the global north. Since half of all internet users are located in Asia, there is a growing need to encourage academics to do cyber security and cybercrime research in the Asia-Pacific region.
Unfortunately, the global world is still without a precise and clear definition of cybercrime in academic parlance. The situation is even worst in our country where people are completely ignorant to many dangers associated with ever changing world of technology. This new type of danger is sometimes called as ‘electronic crime,’ ‘computer crime,’ ‘computer-related crime,’ ‘hi-tech crime,’ ‘technology-enabled crime,’ ‘e-crime,’ or ‘cyberspace crime’. Recently, the scholars have classified three general forms of cyber-crime from their exploration of legislation and the common law. One is the crimes where the computer is used as the instrument of crime, second is the crimes where the computer is incidental to the offence, and thirdly the crimes where the computer is the target of crime. Although there is a lot of criticism on this explanation and believe that the classifications are imperfect, but considerable number of people still appreciate these classifications and finds it helpful to understand cybercrime.
The scholars have identified another type of classification of cybercrime with an effort to classify the crime by its nature by distinguishing it as Type-I and Type-II offences by using a continuous scale. Type-I cybercrime, is a crime which is more technical in nature (e.g. hacking) while Type-II cybercrime is a crime that relies more on human contact rather than technology (e.g. online gambling). However, artificial intelligence and developments in robotics are quickly changing the technological landscape. One could argue that these phenomena could give rise to a ‘Type-III’ cybercrime perpetrated by instruments capable of self-learning.
Another view about cybercrime is the classification as ‘cyber-enabled’ crime and ‘cyber-dependent’ crime. Cyber-enabled crimes are traditional crimes facilitated by the use of computers. The range of ‘cyber-enabled’ crimes is myriad – from white-collar crime, such as fraudulent financial transactions, identity theft, and the theft of electronic information for commercial gain, to drug-trafficking, aberrant voyeuristic activities, harassment, stalking or other threatening behaviors. While these have always been deemed criminal activities, they are now so much easier to pursue with a computer. The Cyber-dependent crimes may be classified as crimes that cannot exist without the cyber technology. A cybercriminal can inflict massive commercial damage using the internet. In fact, it is now easier and safer for a criminal to disrupt a business by destroying its database through malware than by throwing a Molotov cocktail through its front door. A modern manifestation of cyber-dependent crime is the work of the ‘hacktivist,’ someone who protests against an organization’s actions or policies. Perhaps the most memorable is the 2010 Anonymous hacktivist attack on Mastercard, Visa and Paypal in retribution for their ceasing to transact donations to the WikiLeaks group. Cyber-dependent crimes can be set up easily and cheaply using tools that may be readily available online.
Besides, threats posed by the criminals mentioned in the preceding paragraphs, the greatest concern to governments, however, is the ability of cybercriminals across the globe to use the internet for purposes of espionage and terrorism. The borderless nature of the internet, means that governments can be targeted from anywhere in the world, making law enforcement not only challenging, but, in some instances, almost impossible. Moreover, today’s criminals can engage in espionage without the need for high-level technical skills. As mentioned above, the internet can assist, with ‘do-it-yourself’ malware kits, for example, available in online forums.
A better understanding of cyber space and modus operandi of cyber criminals could help to formulate strategies to cope with the situation. Such knowledge would help to develop an action plan to curb the spread of cybercrime. A better model of surveillance by government agencies could be an effective crime deterrent at some level. For the possible players to take fight against cyber criminals need a partnership (public and private) is necessary (indeed essential) but not sufficient. In the short term, criminal justice responses are usually a case of ‘too little, too late’ – assuming that police can detect the behavior at all. It is rarely the case that they can thwart it ahead of time. In the longer term the best responses to cybercrime are in the education of those who are most vulnerable, and the deployment of crime prevention tools more generally. There has been some success with victims of fraud and deception, particularly those people who have sent money overseas in the expectation of winning a heart or claiming a prize (neither of which ever existed).
There is a need to establish a cybercrime observatory in the country where cybercrime research and a policy to prevent further damage be pursued without any further delay by engaging academia and practitioners under a single roof. The collaboration is especially relevant for two reasons. First, cybercrime is a subject that cries out for urgent prophylactic measures across the globe. second, cybercrime is one of the most pressing problems for policing today and into the future, as advanced technology becomes more deeply embedded into daily life. The collaboration of scholars and practitioners is thus essential in the fight against cyber criminality, the combined effort would allow not only to analyze but to review the significant challenges faced by the police organizations due to growing threat of cybercrime. furthermore, this partnership would draw on and brought together the learning and experience of persons from the law enforcers and the academia, extending it beyond the boundaries of the country to the global world.
Sooner or later we have to establish a dedicated unit to deal cybercrimes within the police force like traffic policing or motorways policing. Cyber-policing not only have a potential role within the country but has become a necessity in the international context of the problem as the crime is committed with computers within the country and across the globe having international implications. Intelligence sharing in cases of transnational serious and organized crime could only be achieved by having a specialized unit within the law enforcement ambit. The ever-accessible internet world has become a field of criminality having limitless international borders. There is thus a need for international co-operation between public sector, academia, industry and private practitioners. Presently the phenomenon of cyber criminality has presented an uphill task to deal with to all nation states.
Masud Khabeki is adjunct faculty Criminology at University of Arid Agriculture, Rawalpindi