Computer Security and Computer Crime Investigation

World of Forensic Science | 2005 | 700+ words | Copyright
Computer Security and Computer Crime Investigation

Computer crime, or cyber crime as it is often known, is the fastest-growing type of criminal activity in the world today. As more advanced computers are manufactured, the more sophisticated the cyber criminals become. Computer crime covers a large range of illegal activity, including bank and credit card fraud, computer hacking, industrial espionage, organized pedophilia, and terrorism. What is more, computer crime has no national boundaries. Investigators face many technical and legal barriers when it comes to trying to identify perpetrators of cyber crimes. Yet there have been some successes, and computer forensics is becoming an increasingly important part of forensic science .

Much undesirable, if not actually illegal, computer activity happens in the workplace. A recent survey carried out by the Federal Bureau of Investigation showed that most organizations have found security breaches of their computer networks. The most serious outcome was theft of confidential information, costing millions of dollars to companies as a whole. Almost all companies had had viruses infecting their computers with loss or potential loss of valuable data. Another major form of unwanted computer activity consisted of defacement of the company's website. There was also widespread reporting of abuse of computer privileges by employees by downloading pornography or pirated software.

Hacking is the most common form of computer crime. It is defined as willful penetration of a computer system for malicious purposes. All computer users are vulnerable to hacking, regardless of how secure they assume they are through anti-virus software, firewalls, and password protection. It happened to software giant Microsoft after all, so it could potentially happen to anyone. Sending a virus, a small program that acts on the victim's computer, is one of the main ways in which hackers operate. There are many types of viruses. They do not all destroy data; some viruses are designed to send valuable data back to the hacker. Trojan horse viruses, for example, consist of hidden instructions in e-mails or software which, when opened, will damage, modify, or send important data. Another is the aptly named logic "bomb" that only takes effect a while after it has been sent, allowing the perpetrator ample time to clear away the evidence .

Once a hacker has access to a computer, he or she has access to much of the information inside it, such as bank details, credit card numbers, and passwords. On a personal scale, this kind of identify theft can be disastrous. For a company, it can lead to loss of revenue, delays, and loss of customers. Another growing form of computer nuisance is the sending of spam, or unsolicited e-mail. Measures are underway in many countries to make spam illegal, because it threatens to destroy people's ability to send and receive e-mail.

Investigating and stopping computer crime is difficult. Hacking is often not difficult to accomplish and the tools required to hack are freely available. Many hackers argue that hacking is often a victimless crime. Additionally, the Internet is international and the hacker is anonymous, which makes it hard to pursue and catch them. One answer is to step up computer security but, in reality, anti-virus software can only, by definition, deal with known viruses and so the software is always one step behind the inventive hacker.

Investigation of computer crime is also challenging because it can be hard to prove that a crime has actually been committed. Data can be manipulated after the event, because the hacker is rarely caught soon after the crime. Successful prosecutions are rare and punishments tend not be severe.

While computer forensics and approaches to investigation continue to develop, it is up to the individual and organizations to find ways of improving their computer security. Sometimes crimes are committed just by guessing someone's password. Longer passwords are harder to guess, therefore, most security experts recommend using passwords of at least 6–8 characters where possible. It may also help to get the hackers to turn their talents to helping the people they once attacked, by pointing out the weak points in their systems.

Despite the challenges, there have been some successful prosecutions of computer criminals. Recently, the U.S. government caught up with 19 individuals who ran one of the world's largest online centers for trafficking in stolen identities and financial fraud. The team, from the U.S. and several other countries, ran a site called Shadowcrew with 4,000 members dedicated to computer hacking for obtaining counterfeit documents, as well as stealing credit and debit card numbers. The U.S. Secret Service spent a year tracking down the gang. While operating, the gang had trafficked in at least 1.7 million stolen credit cards, causing losses in excess of four million dollars. In short, the site acted as a "one stop shop" for identity theft . They will trade no longer, and the successful conclusion of this case gives investigators renewed confidence in the fight against computer crime.

see also Computer forensics; Computer hackers; Computer hardware security; Computer forensics; Computer virus; Identity theft.

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