Cybercrime and Cyberspace

Although the term cybercrime has no origin nor reference point in law, in the UK or US, it is widely used in academic circles. Here are three examples of definitions:

"computer-mediated activities which are either illegal or considered illicit by certain parties and which can be conducted through global electronic networks'' (Thomas and Loader 2000, p. 3);
"the use of computers or other electronic devices via information systems to facilitate illegal behaviours'' (McQuade 2006, p. 2);
crimes which are mediated by networked technology'' (Wall 2007, p. 11).
Although different individuals define cybercrime differently, they seem to agree on the significant role of networked technologies in enabling this type of criminal activity. Thomas and Loader's (2000) definition is broader than the rest. The definition not only includes illegal computer-mediated activities, but also illicit ones. Actually, many activities that have been categorised under the big umbrella of cybercrime do not have, at least, clear legal status, such as cyber vandalism, cyber violence and cyber rape. Perhaps, these activities may be more appropriately described as deviant behaviours in cyberspace rather than cybercrime.

Wall (2007) suggests that there are three different generations of cybercrime, each of these is distinctive and the conceptual differences between them can be used to explain current differences in the scope of criminal opportunity. The computer is used to assist traditional offending in the first generation of cybercrime, which "took place within discrete computing systems and was mainly characterized by the criminal exploitation of mainframe computers and their discrete operating systems'' (Wall 2007, p. 44). The first generation of cybercrime usually involves the acquisition of money or the destruction or appropriation of restricted information (Wall 2007). Salami fraud is a good example of the first generation of cybercrime. The collect-the-round off trick is a classic example of a salami fraud, in which a criminal steals money a bit at a time by modifying arithmetic routines, such as interest computations. Although this generation of cybercrime involves the use of the computer and sometimes, even the Internet, these technologies are used to support traditional offences that predate them.

The second generation of cybercrimes are committed across networks (Wall 2007). These crimes are 'hybrid': the Internet has opened up new opportunities across global networks for traditional forms of criminal activities, such as a global trade in pornography (Wall 2001). Trans-jurisdictional procedures are often required to attend to this generation of cybercrimes. However, these procedures may not be readily available, which makes dealing with this generation of cybercrimes highly problematic. The global trade in pornography is a good example, because nations tend to have different standards on the legality of adult pornographic material (Wall 2001). The trans-national/jurisdictional nature of the second generation of cybercrimes may be understood as exemplifying the characteristics of modern social practices: disembedded and distanciated from place-based contexts and re-embedded in abstract systems (e.g., the global network, as well as, international treaties to manage trans-national cybercrime) (cf. Giddens 1990). This is made possible, of course, by increasingly globally linked networks of computers.

The third generation of cybercrimes, known as 'true cybercrimes', are the sole product of opportunities created by the Internet: these criminal activities would disappear if the Internet is eliminated, e.g., spamming (Wall 2007 & 2001). This generation of cybercrime consists of many different Internet technology related activities. Some of these activities have clear criminal status, some of them are subjects of ongoing legal debates, others are considered as deviant by some individuals. Spamming exemplifies the process of a much contested deviant act becoming an illegal act, in both US and EU law, as well as, many other jurisdictions. The ongoing battle of illegal downloading between the music and movie industries and downloaders, not only gives rise to evaluations in the role of law, in shaping the future of contemporary popular culture (Carey & Wall 2001), but also evidences the impact that Internet technologies have on legal matters. These established areas of inquiry presage some of the terrain within which the analyses in this research are developed.

At the extreme end of the third generation of cybercrime, there exist activities that confront the current criminal justice system by not having any legal status. Furthermore, these activities break the relationship between time and space by distanciating it across the global network and reembed it in virtual contexts of online communities that challenge traditional understandings of the concept of community. These activities performed via text and other digital performances, range from minor exchange, such as flaming - heated debates on message boards that are spelled in capital letters (Joinson 2003) - to more serious altercations, such as virtual vandalism (Williams 2006) and cyber rape (MacKinnon 1997). These activities can be described as deviant activities in cybercommunities.

A discussion of cybercrime would naturally lead to an account of the medium of virtual criminality - cyberspace. The word 'cyberspace' was first coined by science fiction novelist William Gibson and appeared in his novel Neuromancer (1984). For Gibson Cyberspace is "A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts... A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding..." (Gibson 1984, p. 67). Gibson later comments on the origin of the term cyberspace in his documentary No Maps for these Territories (2000), saying that the word cyberspace seemed like an effective buzzword: it was suggestive of something, but had no real semantic meaning (Gibson 2000).

Meaningless or not, the word cyberspace entered the public lexicon and became a de facto synonym for the Internet, especially in academic circles and activist communities. In new media, it is often used as a metaphor to describe a "sense of a social setting that exists purely within a space or representation and communication... it exists entirely within a computer space, distributed across increasingly complex and fluid networks" (Slater 2002, p. 355). John Perry Barlow, the founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF: uses cyberspace to refer to the present day nexus of computer and telecommunications in his essay Crime and Puzzlement (1990). He wrote "In this silent world, all conversation is typed. To enter it, one forsakes both body and place and becomes a thing of words alone. You can see what your neighbors are saying (or recently said), but not what either they or their physical surroundings look like. Town meetings are continuous and discussions rage on everything from sexual kinks to depreciation schedules. Whether by one telephonic tendril or millions, they are all connected to one another. Collectively, they form what their inhabitants call the Net. It extends across that immense region of electron states, microwaves, magnetic fields, light pulses and thought which sci-fi writer William Gibson named Cyberspace'' (Barlow 1990). Benedikt understands cyberspace as "a new universe, a parallel universe created and sustained by the world's computers and communications lines. A world in which the global traffic and knowledge, secrets, measurements, indicators, entertainments, and alter-human agency takes on forms: sights, sounds, presence never seen on the surface of the earth blossoming in a vast electronic light'' (Benedikt 1991, p. 29).

Including its political and military back stories, the origin and development of the Internet and its associated technologies have many milestones in its 40 year history. The Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) linked four American universities in 1969, serving as a tool to mobilise research resources in the university world. From then on, the network technology began to be an external facilitator of human lives, especially lives of academic researchers and technologists. Throughout the late 1970s and into the 1980s, computers were developed for personal use and could be connected by phone-in Local Area Networks (LANs). The precursor of various public forums and online communities took form of the Computerised Bulletin Board Systems (CBBCs) which were first created in 1978. At that time, the Internet was not available to most computer users, the users of CBBSs had to use a modem to dial to CBBSs directly. During the 1980s, various independent networks had been launched for different purposes, such as Because It's Time NETwork (BITNET) and Computer Science Network (CSNET). In 1981, the creations of Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and Internet Protocol (IP) led to one of the first definitions of the internet as a connected set of networks (Hafner & Lyon 1996). In 1984, marked by the introduction of the Domain Name System (DNS) and the allocation of more than 1,000 hosts for the system, the Internet became a technological system (Castells 2001). From then on, its influence started to penetrate various political, economic and social organisations. More importantly, since the general privatisation and commercialisation of the Internet, the network technology has been rapidly developing, expanding and repeatedly penetrating into our daily lives. Only six months after the release of the World Wide Web (WWW) on August 6, 1991, there were already 16 million users of computer communications networks worldwide; six years later, there were over 400 million users (Castells 2001, p. 3). Nowadays, the use of information technologies is a part of daily life for a growing number of people and organisations throughout the world.

Victoria Wang