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Chapter: Security in Computing : Legal and Ethical Issues in Computer Security

Why Computer Crime Is Hard to Define and Prosecute

Why Computer Crime Is Hard to Define,Why Computer Crime Is Hard to Prosecute

Why Computer Crime Is Hard to Define


From these examples, it is clear that the legal community has not accommodated advances in computers as rapidly as has the rest of society. Some people in the legal process do not understand computers and computing, so crimes involving computers are not always treated properly. Creating and changing laws are slow processes, intended to involve substantial thought about the effects of proposed changes. This deliberate process is very much out of pace with a technology that is progressing as fast as computing.


Adding to the problem of a rapidly changing technology, a computer can perform many roles in a crime. A particular computer can be the subject, object, or medium of a crime. A computer can be attacked (attempted unauthorized access), used to attack (impersonating a legitimate node on a network), and used as a means to commit crime (Trojan horse or fake login). Computer crime statutes must address all of these evils.


Why Computer Crime Is Hard to Prosecute


Even when everyone acknowledges that a computer crime has been committed, computer crime is hard to prosecute for the following reasons.


Lack of understanding. Courts, lawyers, police agents, or jurors do not necessarily understand computers. Many judges began practicing law before the invention of computers, and most began before the widespread use of the personal computer. Fortunately, computer literacy in the courts is improving as judges, lawyers, and police officers use computers in their daily activities.


Lack of physical evidence. Police and courts have for years depended on tangible evidence, such as fingerprints. As readers of Sherlock Holmes know, seemingly minuscule clues can lead to solutions to the most complicated crimes (or so Doyle would have you believe). But with many computer crimes there simply are no fingerprints and no physical clues of any sort.


Lack of recognition of assets. We know what cash is, or diamonds, or even negotiable securities. But are twenty invisible magnetic spots really equivalent to a million dollars? Is computer time an asset? What is the value of stolen computer time if the system would have been idle during the time of the theft?


Lack of political impact. Solving and obtaining a conviction for a murder or robbery is popular with the public, and so it gets high priority with prosecutors and police chiefs. Solving and obtaining a conviction for an obscure high-tech crime, especially one not

involving obvious and significant loss, may get less attention. However, as computing becomes more pervasive, the visibility and impact of computer crime will increase.


Complexity of case. Basic crimes that everyone understands, such as murder, kidnapping, or auto theft, can be easy to prosecute. A complex money-laundering or tax fraud case may be more difficult to present to a jury because jurors have a hard time following a circuitous accounting trail. But the hardest crime to present may be a high-tech crime, described, for example, as root access by a buffer overflow in which memory was overwritten by other instructions, which allowed the attacker to copy and execute code at will and then delete the code, eliminating all traces of entry (after disabling the audit logging, of course).


Age of defendant.. Many computer crimes are committed by juveniles. Society understands immaturity and disregards even very serious crimes by juveniles because the juveniles did not understand the impact of their actions. A more serious, related problem is that many adults see juvenile computer crimes as childhood pranks, the modern equivalent of tipping over an outhouse.


Even when there is clear evidence of a crime, the victim may not want to prosecute because of possible negative publicity. Banks, insurance companies, investment firms, the government, and healthcare groups think their trust by the public will be diminished if a computer vulnerability is exposed. Also, they may fear repetition of the same crime by others: so-called copycat crimes. For all of these reasons, computer crimes are often not prosecuted.

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