Cyber crimes are punishable offenses committed using computers — or other devices, such as a phone or tablet — and the internet. With the nearly daily advancement of technology and the widespread use of it across the globe, the rise in number of cyber crimes and cyber criminals have also become a reality in our world.
No one is immune from the possibility of becoming a victim of a cyber crime. Targets of cyber crimes include: individuals, companies, organizations, banks, schools, governments, and other entities.
Cyber crimes can be criminal transactions as well as intrusions or breaches of privacy. Cyber crimes can also disrupt normal access to the internet.
Some examples of cyber crimes include:
- Cyberbullying: This is the sending or posting hateful and/or hurtful messages or images about someone. Cyberbullying is a crime that is prevalent amongst younger generations. Teen and college-aged students are often the targets of cyberbullies via social media;
- Cyberterrorism: This is used to create fear and sometimes incite violence. Often cyberterrorism places lives in jeopardy. For instance, if a hacker alters the medical records of patients at a hospital it could have devastating and deadly consequences;
- Distribution of child pornography: Child pornography is a tragic, global problem. As with many of the other cyber crimes, it is difficult to track down the cyber criminal child pornography source due to the criminal’s ability to remain anonymous on the internet;
- Identity theft: This can occur when someone steals another’s personal information typically for their own financial gain. Identity theft is often achieved through a phishing scheme to illegally get access to unsuspecting victims’ bank accounts or credit cards;
- Money laundering: This happens when criminals “move” money that was obtained from criminal activities around electronically to different businesses and bank accounts. Often, the bank accounts and businesses where the money is being transferred to are legitimate. The criminals goal is to hide the fact that the money was obtained illegally and thus make it appear “clean” or “laundered.”; and
- Ransomware: This is malicious software installed by hackers typically targeting individuals, however larger groups — such as hospitals, private companies, local governments, universities or other schools — are not immune. The ransomware prevents users from accessing sensitive records and information until a “ransom” or payoff is made to the cyber criminal.
While there is no full-proof protection against cyber crimes there are many steps individuals, businesses, organizations and governments can take to help avoid becoming a target of such criminal activity.
Steps you can take against cyber crime include:
- Use up-to-date anti-virus software on your computer;
- Install spyware on your computer;
- Do not download attachments from unknown sources;
- Monitor children while using technology;
- Install parental control software on your computer;
- Never share personal information online, such as your Social Security number, bank account number, etc. online; and
- Avoid questionable websites.
State laws vary on the punishments imposed against cyber criminals. Depending on the particulars of the crime and the state involved, the weight of the offense can shift from a misdemeanor to a felony. Monetary fines, jail time and probation are all possibilities if convicted of a cyber crime.
Often times, with cyber crimes, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is also involved in the investigation and prosecution. Typically, this is because in dealing with internet crimes, while state lines may not be physically crossed — more than one state is involved and thus makes it a federal matter.
Also, the FBI is the lead investigating group against terrorism. So, if the cyber attack deals with terrorism, the FBI is involved with the case. Federal penalties can often be more severe than state penalties.
As with any legal matter, it is crucial to review all the aspects of the case and determine whether or not there are any reasons or excuses as to why the alleged crime may have been committed.
Possible criminal defenses to cyber crime include:
- Actual authorization: the defendant may have had permission by the authorizing party to access the records or data that potentially were corrupted, damaged or hacked;
- Duress or coercion: the defendant may have been tricked or forced into cooperating with the online scheme; and
- Knowledge: this may be a key component to prosecuting a cyber criminal. Depending on the crime and the individual’s involvement, it is possible that a defendant did not have the knowledge that they were participating in an online criminal activity.
Whether you are a victim of a cyber crime or you have been accused of a cyber crime, it is imperative to speak to a cyber crime attorney that has the knowledge and experience to assist you. Cyber crimes are vast, complex and ever-evolving. These crimes may involve both state and federal rules, regulations, laws and punishments.