The Evolutions of Cybercrime: Is the Email of the Species still more Deadlier than the Mail?

author: David S. Wall, School of Law, University of Leeds
published: Sept. 15, 2009,   recorded: June 2009,   views: 2988

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This talk will discuss the implications of technology for criminal behaviour and its control. The first part will briefly outline how networked technology has transformed /is transforming crime, crime control, policing and surveillance. It will chart the development of cybercrime through three generational changes from discrete computers systems to dial-in modem access to broadband. It will then map out the significant transformations and the challenges they create, especially the need to deal with informationalized, networked and globalised small impact bulk victimisations that do not fall within the routine activities and experiences of criminal justice systems and the professionals who work within them.

The second part will explore recent developments in cybercrimes that are continuing to challenge criminal justice systems. For example, as dial in computer networking became common place during the late 1990s the practice of bulk spamming, through their content and also attachments, were arguably the most prevalent form of online victimisation. The prevalence of spamming proliferated dramatically from mid 2003 onwards following the advent of broadband and the growth of botnets (robot networks of remotely administered infected computers). However, in more recent years we have experienced the emergence of new forms of victimization online which are showing interesting and distinct signs of evolution from their predecessors.

Botnets and the threats from spams remain prevalent, but the explosion in social networking sites has added potential opportunities for online victimisation. Not only are the there now many more opportunities for obtaining personal information about individuals who live out large parts of their lives online, but these social networks can also be exploited by socially engineering (persuading) participants to pass on information to the various nodes in their personal networks. These information flows can be used to perform more advanced forms of phishing expeditions. In deed, in the worst case scenario they can contribute to mass panics through the intentionally or accidental flow of misinformation. Not only is email being surpassed as the primary form of threat but it will be suggested in this talk that these new victimisations are potentially more invasive.

The third part of the talk will seek to identify some of the new developments in networked technology that could be used to initiate future online attacks in the future. These include ambient technologies, new generations of Radio Frequency Identity Tags, but also the impact of governmental and commercial policies which increase our reliance upon technology. Whilst some of these predictions may be speculative, one thing remains certain, cybercrime is not an absolute concept – it will not be eradicated, rather it is relative to online business and social opportunities and it is therefore a function of that opportunity. As a consequence cybercrime will never be eradicated; the best that we can hope to achieve is that it can be prevented through social information as quickly as potential exploits in operating and financial systems can be identified. To this end we need to develop new methodologies for understanding change as it happens and also to explore the various relationships between technology and law in the process of regulating harmful behaviour online.

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