Internet and Crime

Three articles I read today about Internet crime created an interesting juxtaposition. A c|net article discussed the affordability of tools for sale to facilitate online criminal activity, a Washington Post article discussed how unsecured WiFi connections enable anonymous, roaming access for criminal activity, and a Wall Street Journal article (subscription required) discussed the prosecutorial trend of filing criminal charges in venues that are physically remote from the persons charged.

According to c|net RSA, which monitors transactions on websites and ICQ channels between providers and consumers of hacking tools, reported at a recent conference that the tools are becoming more sophisticated while their prices are falling. Vendors are offering bulk discounts: 1-10 purloined eBay accounts cost $5.00/each, but the price drops to $4.50/each for 10-50 accounts, and to $3.50 for another 50 accounts. The Washington Post article begins with the tale of police, armed with a warrant, closing in on a suspected pedophile who traded child pornography online. Their target location was inhabited by an elderly woman who had nothing to do with the crime, other than being the owner of the wireless router beaming broadband access throughout her apartment building. Apparently one of her neighbors–police could not trace who it was–gained access through her router. There are more than 46,000 public wireless access points around the country, making it easy to log in, do harm, log out, and move on. The Post quoted a law enforcement official: “It’s frustrating for officers . . . If a suspect is going from coffee shop to coffee shop and using free signals to commit crimes, the police probably aren’t going to catch him. That’s the reality.”

The Journal balances the bad-guys-are-winning theme. In the short history of Internet law one thing is axiomatic: the Internet is everywhere. Usually we discuss how the Internet’s ubiquity frustrates regulation. It also enables prosecutors to charge crimes against remote defendants. If a police investigator downloads child porn to a computer in Buffalo, New York from a man residing in Massachusetts, it does not matter that the defendant has never set foot in Buffalo: he can face prosecution there because the crime was committed there. A concern exists that prosecutors will chose venues that will be hostile–or at least inconvenient to–the defendant but, as one attorney notes in this article, “inconvenience isn’t a defense.”

9 thoughts on “Internet and Crime”

  1. And this is only the beginning… Give or take a few decades the entire world could be wirelessly connected! Some guy in bangladesh, India can hack my eBay account and buy a Mercedes for his best friend in Oxaca, Mexico. err..

  2. I really don’t think it’s all that easy to get free internet access. The only free access you get is around residential areas. Almost all public places require you to pay at least a few bucks before using their internet. There’s no such thing as a free lunch as they say in economics.

  3. The recent hacking of the TJX Companies’ database is a prime example of the threat posed by internet crime. The potential for havoc and destruction that can be wrought by an anonymous foe using less key strokes than it took to write this response should not be denied these days.
    With the rate technology is progressing at these days, it would not be unlikely for the next 9/11 to be a cyber attack on our nation’s financial system or powergrid. If people thought the results of 9/11 were bad, wait until such an attack occurs and sends this country into a situation that rivals the Great Depression! Furthermore, who could you blame for such an attack?

    While the occurrence of such situations seems doomsday at best, the possibility still exists. The many positive opportunities the internet has opened up for society cannot be denied, but it would be foolish and negligent to turn a blind eye to the many dangers of living in a wireless world.

  4. I forget if it is San Francisco, or Philadelphia, but I know one of these two cities was planning to go entirely wireless. Meaning the entire city would have access to wireless internet free of charge (because they would be paying for it through taxes). In an area like this, I suppose this problem would prove to be even greater. Unless they monitored activity someway through usernames/network ids.

  5. Cybercrime is so common these days that I am not shocked prices for illegal logons have dropped. The CNET article discusses a growing online crime industry that is growing every day. What irks me the most is that eBay accounts are being sold for $5.00 a piece. This is a terrible scam because I have personally witnessed three scams on eBay and Paypal within the last month. Just two weeks ago I was scammed on eBay trying to tell my old laptop. I am still owed hundreds of dollars by a fake account that claims to belong to a student in Nigeria. When I was trying to sell my textbooks from last semester online, I was sent an e-mail from eBay to inform me that one of the accounts that had bid on my books was a fake account that had been returned to its rightful owner. Therefore, the bid was no longer valid. There are two problems regarding this issue. One problem is the ambiguity of one’s identity on the Internet; anyone can set up a bogus account or steal a password, pretending to be someone else. Another problem is jurisdiction; many of these crimes are committed in countries other than the U.S., so the threat of a lawsuit is not an issue. The individual who scammed me with my laptop was apparently actually a resident of Nigeria, so eBay has no way of resolving the matter financially. The most the website can do is try to block that user from logging on again by tracking his or her IP address. Even then, the individual could purchase a new computer and steal more eBay logons.

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