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Computer crime refers to criminal activity in which a computer or an electronic information system is the vehicle, object or environment of the crime. There are a number of terms employed to refer to this crime classification, including computer crime, cybercrime, hi-tech crime, digital crime and electronic crime, e-crime and so on. These terms, while perhaps capable of being employed in slightly different ways, all refer to the same class of criminal activity and it is almost a matter of personal choice which term is used.
The list of crimes that could be classified as computer crimes is quite broad. There can of course be a great deal of overlap between computer crime and other classes of crime identified by criminologists (for example, the majority of white-collar crime in the twenty-first century involves some use of computers or electronic information systems). However, what distinguishes white-collar crime is an abuse of reponsibility and power, while computer crime is distinguished in theory by an abuse of technological skill. One of the most famous and destructive computer crimes in recent years was perpetrated by a fifteen year-old Canadian highschool studen, who went by the name of Mafiaboy. Only in the realm of computer crime can a fifteen year-old, operating on his own, present an urgent threat to several huge corporations at the same time.
Many regular crimes, such as fraud, embezzlement, money laundering, larceny, extortion, child sex offenses, stalking and some kinds of terrorism can be classified as computer crime if the emphasis of the act is in computer operations or electronic information systems. There are also, of course, a number of crimes that are specific to computers and the internet, such as hacking (illegal entry into an electronic information system), phreaking (theft of telecommunications services), or writing and proliferating computer viruses. Denial of services (DoS) attacks consist of flooding an internet server with massive numbers of false requests for webpages, freezing the target website and sometimes even leading to a disastrous server crash. Crimes such as Dos attacks do not profit the perpitrator financially, and seem to have no other purpose than to wreak mischief and mayhem upon the online community.
Computer crime is on the rise as the world increasingly relies on electronic communication and data information systems to power commerce, government, and all aspects of social life. What is certain is that more crimes of this sort are being committed every year, and that their sophistication is increasing tremendously. Unfortunately, precise figures are difficult to calculate in this arena. Often these criminals are so sophsticated that victims don't realize anything has happened, and many computer crimes aren't reported to authorities because, as with sex crimes, victims are often unaware that what happened to them is illegal. While it is unclear exactly how much of a toll computer crime takes on the economy, studies have been attempting to estimate the damage for years. In early 2006, the FBI released a (very conservative) estimate that computer crime costs U.S. businesses over $67 billion every year. (A liberal interpretation of the same study would estimate damages of over $200 billion annually.) One anonymous FBI report from 2003 documented a single computer crime theft of over $500 million.
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