The internet has become the most important technological invention in modern times. This invention can trace its beginnings to the development of computers during the 1950s. Once computers were developed, scientists set out to find ways though which these devices could communicate with each other. The first network of computers was the ARPANET, which was a project of the US Department of Defence.
This network utilized packet switching to enable communication among networked computers. By the early 1980s, access to the ARPANET had grown to include various universities and scientific organizations. The commercial potential of the internet was identified during this decade and internet service providers that catered to the public started emerging by the early 1990s. By the late 1990s, the internet had become a revolutionary force and its impact on society continued to grow exponentially.
Less than 3 decades after the introduction of the internet to the public, this invention has had a transforming effect on the world. The personal and professional lives of people have been impacted by the internet. Most organizations have utlized it to increase their efficiency and productivity. Individuals have exploited the internet for their communication and recreational needs.
Numerous applications have been developed to exploit the communicational abilities of the internet. As a result of this, many activities ranging from online shopping to collaborative research among scientists can be accomplished using the internet. Birchfield (2013) asserts that the internet has become the “life stream of global communication and commercial and social enterprises” (p.46).
However, this extensive use of the internet has led to the development of cybercrime. Security experts agree that the prevalence of internet use by the global community has made it the feeder to the world growing cyber threat. By definition, cyber crime is an economic crime committed using computers and the internet and it includes distributing viruses, illegally downloading files, phishing and stealing personal information” (Birchfield, 2013, p.47). The increasing reliance on the internet by the modern society has provided many opportunities for theft and other forms of crime to be undertaken by malicious people.
With businesses, governments, and individuals operating almost entirely within the internet, literally millions of opportunities for criminals to access and corrupt data have been created. Bamrara, Gajendra and Mamta (2012) declare that cybercrime is becoming a challenge for the national and economic security of nations. This paper will set out to argue that the legal and illegal access to personal information made possible by the internet has led to a huge rise in online crime especially in the areas of e-commerce, identity theft and hacking.
Cyber Crimes in the Internet
Due to the rise in online shopping, there has been an increase in the attempts by criminals to access ordinary people’s bank account information. Before the prevalence of the internet, an individual’s bank information was only accessible from the physical bank. However, due to online shopping, people often provide their banking information when making a purchase.
Bamrara et al. (2012) note that while electronic banking has inherent advantages to the customer, it presents a great opportunity for cyber crime activities including data theft and financial losses. Cyber criminals can make use of techniques such as phishing to access a person’s bank account details. Bradley (2006) explains that the fraudulent parties construct websites that are designed to mimic the real company with the aim of deceiving users into thinking that this is the official website.
Once the user enters his personal information, which includes username, password, and banking details, the attackers use this information to access the real bank account and steal from it. In addition to the actual stealing of bank details, online criminals can set up fraudulent online stores to exploit the growth in e-commerce (Bamrara et al. 2012). Since the internet is largely unregulated, it is easy for an individual to publish a website and use it as he/she wants. Cyber criminals create websites that purport to engage in legitimate business.
This websites can appear very sophisticated and they have a professional look that makes the visitor believe that they are legitimate. These online stores are intentionally made to mimic legitimate businesses engaged in e-commerce in order to attract customers. However, when a person pays for the goods or services, the fraudulent business does not deliver the products to the customer.
Lastly, online shopping exposes the user to the risk of having his/her credit and debit card details stolen during the online transaction. To complete the online shopping process, a person has to provide the debit or credit card details. Criminals can steal this information from a customer and make purchases that will be charged on the customer’s account.
Increased use of the internet has encouraged cyber fraud practices including identity theft. By definition, identity theft is the acquisition and use or attempted use of another person’s identity without the owner’s permission or knowledge. Identity theft through the internet is an efficient fairly low risk operation for the criminal. Before the advent of the internet, criminals who wished to engage in identity theft had to physically acquire documents about the victim and then alter them or use them to commit fraud.
This operation was tedious and risky since the fraudster could easily be caught. However, with the internet, identity thieves can acquire information on a victim online and proceed to use the other person’s identity in the online environment. Bamrara et al. (2012) reveals that cases of identity theft have increased dramatically with the increase in internet use. Identity thieves might employ methods such as phishing to obtain personal information from an individual. This information includes name, age, Social Security Number and address. Once the information has been obtained, the criminal can take on the identity of the victim and use it in a number of ways.
The offender can access and steal from the bank accounts of the victim. He/she can also set up and use credit cards in the victim’s name incurring huge amounts of debt. In addition to these financial crimes, identity thieves can use the victim’s identity to engage in criminal activities. Pollock (2011) explains that malicious persons can use a stolen identity to commit online offences. Since they commit these crimes under the identity of the victim, if an investigation is carried out the victim will be held responsible for the crimes.
Internet use exposes a person to attacks from hackers, who are intruders who try to gain unauthorized entry into the computer system for various reasons. When a person plugs into the internet, he/she is prone to numerous attacks that can be perpetrated from numerous locations at any given time. Without some essential level of security, hackers can make unauthorized access into personal or organizational IT infrastructure (Nykodym, Kahle & Marsillac, 2010). Hackers can operate in a number of ways. Some are freelance operators in that break into computer systems and corrupt or steal data either for fun or in order to sell it to the highest bidder.
These bidders may range from competitors, governments, and individuals. Hackers may also be hired by organizations to steal valuable data from a competitor or to disrupt the network infrastructure of the competitor. The deliberate destruction of company computer systems by hackers can be accomplished by virus implants, web defacement, or destruction of data.
These actions can diminish the ability of an organization to operate effectively thereby leading to losses. Hackers can also be used to engage in industrial espionage, which entails stealing a company’s confidential commercial information and intellectual property. Nykodym et al. (2010) states that unauthorized access of private company data places the entire organization at risk. Hackers pose a threat to the competitiveness of an organization.
Nykodym et al. (2010) explains that hackers can steal valuable information and pass it on to a competitor. The primary motivation for this is to achieve financial gains by selling information. Dealing with hackers is hard since they can operate across city, State, or even national boundaries. The digital crime scene is therefore hard to establish and effective investigations that lead to prosecution may be impossible to carry out.
However, arguments have been made that the growth of the internet has not contributed to an increase in crime. Advocates of this view explain that the internet has in fact led to a decline in crime by decreasing the risks that are involved in carrying out activities physically. For example, online shopping protects the business from robbery attacks (Boritz & Gyun 2011). The online store only needs to have a warehouse for storing the goods and they are delivered to the client once the online transaction is completed.
Companies are therefore protected from crimes that are committed against conventional stores by buglers. In the same using the internet to pay bills or engage in banking protects the client from the risk of being mugged. When dealing with cash, a person is at risk from thieves including purse snatchers. When carrying out commercial activities on the internet, a person’s money is secure since one needs the correct username and password to access it (Boritz & Gyun 2011). Advocates of the internet assert that it is the media attention given to online crimes has created the impression that the internet has caused a rise in crimes.
While it is true that the internet has led to a decrease in crime for some companies and individuals, this reduction is small compared to the risks introduced by the internet. The relative ease with which criminals can engage in their activities using the internet has undoubtedly promoted crime. In addition to this, the internet has increase the number of potential victims of crime therefore promoting crime in the society. Unlike the traditional thief, whose targets were limited by geographical conditions, the cyber criminal can attack individuals as far away as on different continents with little effort.
While the internet has led to many desirable outcomes for the society, it has also led to a rise in cyber crime. This paper set out to demonstrate how invention has contributed to an increase in cyber crime on a global scale. It began by documenting the history of the internet in order to show how popular this invention has become.
The paper then showed how the internet has led to crime with particular focus on e-commerce, identity theft and hacking. The types of losses that individuals and companies can incur due to the internet have been discussed. From the discussions made in this paper, it is clear that cyber crime represents a serious threat to individuals and businesses. Cybercrime has to be contained for the internet to continue playing a positive role in the growth and development of our society.
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