Debretsion Gebremichael Issue: Global 2012
Article no.: 16
Topic: Cyber crime: current and future threats
Author: Debretsion Gebremichael
Title: Minister of Communication and Information, Technology
Organisation: Ethiopia (Country)
PDF size: 252KB

About author

Dr Debretsion Gebremichael is the Minister of Communication and Information, Technology, Ethiopia, and currently Board Chair of Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation, Ethiopia. DrGebremichael was previously Director General of the Ethiopian Information and Communication Technology Development Agency.

Dr Gebremichael holds a PhD in IT from Capella University (USA).

 

Article abstract

There is a wide range of offences that can be committed through ICT. Cyber crimes are commonly considered as falling into one of two categories: new offences committed using new technologies, such as offences against computer systems and data; and old offences committed using new technology, where networked computers and other devices are used to facilitate the commission of an offence. Such cyber crimes include hacking or breaking into computer systems to steal or alter data as well as crimes such as the transfer of illegal images or fraud.

 

Full Article

Over the last decade, the ubiquity of the Internet has transformed the ways in which we conduct business, personal relationships and even popular uprisings, as illustrated most recently by those in North Africa and the Middle East. However, new ways of operating bring new kinds of vulnerability. Today, there is a sense that we understand the benefits of the Internet more fully than we understand the risks. Terrorism, crime and war in the virtual world have, so far, been less deadly and disruptive than their equivalents in the physical world, but there is a growing fear that this could change.

There is a wide range of offences that can be committed through information and communication technology. Cyber crimes are commonly considered as falling into one of two categories: new offences committed using new technologies, such as offences against computer systems and data; and old offences committed using new technology, where networked computers and other devices are used to facilitate the commission of an offence. In the former are crimes such as hacking or breaking into computer systems to steal or alter data; in the latter, are crimes such as the transfer of illegal images or fraud. There are also a significant number of other offences committed through the Internet, such as harassment, threatening behavior and other anti-social activity.

The nature of cyber crime

The Internet opens up new opportunities to cyber criminals and enables aspiring criminals to enter the environment, based on a belief that law enforcement struggles to operate in the online world. The nature of the Internet not only allows criminals to be located in a different country to the victim, but they can target many thousands of victims at once or businesses across international boundaries. A phishing email can be sent easily to hundreds of thousands of people from one computer, and a single person can infect many computers with malicious software.

The nature, scale and volume of cybercrime pose a great challenge. Investigations are often technically complex to identify the perpetrators to bring them to justice. Evidence gathering is difficult and time-consuming, especially when the data evidencing the crime has been routed through a number of countries.

Financially-based crime

Cyber crime is being undertaken by serious organized criminals, who target government, business and the public to obtain money or goods. Their motivation is largely for financial gain, but it can also be to inflict personal harm. This can have a profound impact; the losses are significant, and provide criminals with funding which they can use in other areas.

Overall, the commercial sector is dependent on the Internet and electronic information, and is affected by cyber crime in a number of ways.

Some of the crimes are;

 Fraud: Fraud is a major concern for businesses. There are many types of fraud targeted at the public, ranging from credit and debit card fraud, lottery scams, and fraud perpetrated through online auction websites. Additionally, the public is at risk from fraud involving fake goods, such as watches or clothing, or more seriously from fake and unsafe pharmaceuticals bought online. None of these are unknown offline, but cyber criminals are able to use the Internet to perpetrate these offences on a mass scale, and are able to use the Internet to hide their real identities and locations.

 Data security: The data that online criminals need to commit theft or fraud can be acquired from individuals or from companies. Commercial data breaches are a sensitive issue for companies that are the victims, and this makes it difficult to assess the scale of the threat and also to determine whether the biggest risk comes from external attackers or corrupt insiders. Successful data thefts result mostly from attacks on three vulnerable areas: data held by individual Internet users; data stored centrally; or data in transit between an individual and an organization, such as on laptops, memory sticks or other moveable media.

Individuals are targeted primarily for user names and passwords to enable criminals to access, and in some cases to control online accounts. These are usually bank accounts but other types, such as online brokerage accounts, may also be compromised. Criminals also attempt to gain private details of their payment card accounts. This can be achieved by tricking the account holder into revealing private data through fake emails and websites (phishing) or by infecting the account holder’s computer with malicious software (malware) that automatically intercepts and forwards data to the criminal. Individuals are also victimized by attacks on businesses, where data is stolen in bulk.

 Intellectual Property Theft: Illegal file sharing using peer-to-peer (P2P) technology over the Internet affects the creative industries sector. There is also the threat of intellectual property being stolen through illegal access to systems by people inside or outside a company, leading to a loss of revenue for the patent owners.

Non-financial crimes

The public are targets of criminals or anti-social behavior in various ways through the internet, and often have concerns about how they can keep themselves safe online, and where such information can be gathered from.

The transfer of illegal images of child sexual abuse as well as communications between offenders is made easier by new technology. The Internet also facilitates the prolonged, consistent perpetration of ‘hate crime’ and some victims can experience hate incidents and hate crimes over a prolonged period of time at roughly the same level of intensity. Whether this is an email sent anonymously or a website dedicated to spreading abhorrent messages, this can have a high impact on victims and communities when it is part of a pattern of repeated victimization.

Cyber crime challenges for Government

The Government strongly supports the use of the Internet, and recognizes the benefits that it gives to our society, both the public and business. However, cyber crime poses a number of challenges for Government. Government can be the target of attacks from online criminals, who target the services provided by Government for the public with the aim of financial gain, or for gathering data on individuals. The increasing availability of government services online provides opportunities for criminals. There is a risk that the increasing provision of services online by Government will lead to more attempts to defraud Government.

Conclusion

Cyber crime is currently a big challenge but will continue to be more so in the increasingly connected world. There is also the possibility that some of the benefits already in place through online services would be undermined if cyber crime will continue to affect many more people than it does. This may be especially true for consumers and small businesses, who are the targets of attacks from criminals, but who have limited ability to defend themselves. There are also indirect costs to businesses that have invested in online capacity, but do not get a return on their investment due to the consumer’s fear of using those services. Hence, it is high time for all stakeholders to join hands to forge some sort of collaboration and act in unison to mitigate and avert the imminent threats posed by cyber criminals.