Cyber crime is any criminal activity that involves a computer, networked device or a network. While most cyber crimes are carried out in order to generate profit for the cyber criminals, some cyber crimes are carried out against computers or devices directly to damage or disable them, while others use computers or networks to spread malware, illegal information, images or other materials. Some cyber crimes do both — i.e., target computers to infect them with a computer virus, which is then spread to other machines and, sometimes, entire networks.
A primary effect of cyber crime is financial; cyber crime can include many different types of profit-driven criminal activity, including ransomware attacks, email and internet fraud, and identity fraud, as well as attempts to steal financial account, credit card or other payment card information. Cyber criminals may also target an individual’s private information, as well as corporate data for theft and resale. As many workers settle into remote work routines due to the pandemic, cyber crimes are expected to grow in frequency in 2021, making it especially important to protect backup data.
Defining cyber crime
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) divides cyber crime into three categories:
- crimes in which the computing device is the target — for example, to gain network access;
- crimes in which the computer is used as a weapon — for example, to launch a denial-of-service (DoS) attack; and
- crimes in which the computer is used as an accessory to a crime — for example, using a computer to store illegally obtained data.
The Council of Europe Convention on Cyber crime, to which the United States is a signatory, defines cyber crime as a wide range of malicious activities, including the illegal interception of data, system interference that compromise network integrity and availability, and copyright infringements.
The necessity of internet connectivity has enabled an increase in the volume and pace of cyber crime activities because the criminal no longer needs to be physically present when committing a crime. The internet’s speed, convenience, anonymity and lack of borders make computer-based variations of financial crimes — such as ransomware, fraud and money laundering, as well as crimes such as stalking and bullying — easier to carry out.
Cyber-criminal activity may be carried out by individuals or small groups with relatively little technical skill. Or, by highly organized global criminal groups that may include skilled developers and others with relevant expertise. To further reduce the chances of detection and prosecution, cyber-criminals often choose to operate in countries with weak or nonexistent cyber crime laws.