Computer crime has been defined broadly to include any violation of criminal law that involves the use of computer technology to commit the prohibited act. Computer crime includes traditional crimes that now may be committed through the use of a computer, such as using an art program to create fake identification or making fraudulent credit card purchases with someone else's credit card number that has been intercepted over the internet. Computer crime also involves crimes that are relatively new and specific to computers, such as spreading a harmful virus to other computer systems or using programs to steal passwords and gain free access to computer services. Computer crime has become more of a problems with the rapid expansion of the internet.
It is committed for several different reasons. Some computer crime is committed by employers who are angry with their company for some reason, Youthful hackers sometimes gain illegal access to government or corporate computer systems. There is disagreement over how hackers can be punished. Many feel that hackers are dangerous and should receive jail terms and pay large fines like other criminals. Others argue that hackers break into systems as a hobby, do not intend any harm, and can be rehabilitated. A distinction bas been drawn between hackers who are relatively harmless and tend to break into sites for fun, for a challenge, or to point out security flaws and crackers or criminal hackers, who seek to make money from breaking into computers. However, breaking into a corporate or government system to which one does not have access is a federal crime regardless of motive.
One common internet crime is the transmission of obscene images, movies, and sounds. Concerned that children may be harmed by their access to this material on the internet available at public libraries, in 2000 Congress enacted the Children Internet Protection Act. This act requires that all public libraries purchase and install filtering software on all of their computers or risk losing federal technology funding.
In 2003, the Supreme Court decided that this law did not violate the First Amendment ( freedom of speech) rights of those sending and receiving information on the internet.
Some hackers release viruses, which are programs capable of automatically copying themselves and attaching themselves to other programs. Viruses may be designed to play practical jokes, slow down computers, erase or damage data, or act in a variety of other harmful ways. Logic bombs are also frequently employed. These are programs that are set to activate upon the occurrence of some event, such as the arrival of a particular date or time.
Hackers may also use sniffers to gather passwords to systems, or password cracking programs that use dictionary files to try different combinations of letters until they come across valid passwords.
Throughout the 1980's federal legislation related to computer crime, as well as traditional criminal statues, was used to prosecute computer criminals. However, the law proved to be vague and ineffective. In response, Congress passed the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986, which provided the government with a specific law to prosecute hackers. The law made it a crime to modify, destroy, or disclose information gained from unauthorized entry into a computer. The National Information Infrastructure Act of 1996 makes it illegal to threaten to cause damage to a computer system unless the owner gives something of value, such as when someone threatens to crash a system unless they are given system privileges. Another part of the act makes it illegal to intentionally give or receive passwords that would permit unauthorized access to systems. The law is jointly enforced by the United States Secret Service and the FBI, By 2003, all 50 states had also enacted laws specifically dealing with computer crime.
Despite the attention given to computer crimes, most probably go unreported. Many companies are reluctant to publicize their vulnerability to computer criminals.
Also, many are discouraged by the resources and time needed to prosecute individuals.
The federal government has also been carefully watching computer bulletin board systems. Bulletin boards allow users to exchange computer files and messages using computers and modems. Some of these bulletin boards make commercial software programs available to users. However, making the programs available without the publisher's permission is illegal. Many bulletin board operators claim that users upload these programs without the operator's knowledge. Nevertheless, many states hold the operator responsible for making sure no illegal copies appear. Furthermore, the person downloading the program is in possession of illegal software.
Another type of computer crime occurs when someone illegally copies software he or she has purchased. Software companies lose money each year to illegal copying. A person who opens a software package is agreeing to use the software on one computer only. This person is allowed to make copies of the software only to use as a backup. Placing software on more than one computer without the publisher's permission is illegal and violates federal copyright laws. The violator is subject to a possible jail term and a fine up to $250,000. Violators can include individuals, business, and schools.
The internet is a vast network of internet connected computers over which users may send and receive e-mail, download and upload files, access chat rooms, access world wide web pages, read and post to newsgroups, play games, and buy goods and services. Just as in the real world, a wide variety of crimes occur on the internet.
Filtering software is used to protect children from adult content available on the internet, some parents have their computers fixed at home so the children or anyone that uses the computer can't get into certain websites.They are ways to allow children to use the computer at home without being able to access such sites, by going into their computer to set the settings or for the computer to prompt for a password in order to enter such sites.There are many ways of allowing children to use the computer for fun and school work safely.
Computers have become a way of life for most people. Courts, Congress, and state legislatures will continue to deal with new criminal law problems as computer technology evolves.