Abuse of Information in the Internet
Since Internet came into reality, human beings have found it very helpful in their daily lives. The benefits one can get from using Internet are countless, and it has helped advanced the world, and people’s lifestyles, in many ways. There is no doubt that Internet has enabled people to have easier and better lives; however, Internet also provides hackers and offenders with the opportunity to exploit personal information that they find in the Internet in what is called Internet crimes.
A Brief History of Internet and its Benefits
The Internet is responsible for revolutionizing the computer and communications world. The capabilities of other communications media such as the radio and television have been integrated into one, very powerful new medium that reaches across the globe. With its specifications which set it apart from other media, the Internet became a tool for world-wide broadcasting and information dissemination. Furthermore, it gave way to communication that transcends space, distance, time, and location (Leiner et.al, 2003).
The origins of the Internet revolve around four aspects, involving the technological evolution, the operations and management, the social aspect, and the commercialization aspect. The technological evolution involves researches on packet switching and other technologies such as the ARPANET. It also includes the researches currently done which aim to further enhance the scale, performance, and functionality of the infrastructure. The operations and management aspect refers to the complexity of the operational infrastructure. The social aspect indicates the community that further enhances the technology. Lastly, the commercialization aspect refers to the transition of research which gave way to the available information infrastructure (Leiner et.al, 2003).
The history of the Internet points to J.C.R. Licklider of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as the person who conceptualized a “Galactic Network” based on a series of memos he wrote. Through this network, Licklider envisioned that every person can access data and programs from any location in a speedy manner. Licklider’s concept of this network was the very idea of the Internet. Licklider then became the head of the computer research program of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) from 1962. He also convinced other people at DARPA about the potential of the networking concept (Leiner et.al, 2003).
Lawrence Roberts, one of Licklider’s successors, planned to develop the computer network concept. He was not the only person thinking on the same line. Other personalities from other countries have the same concept of the packet network. In addition, it happened that the work conducted at MIT, at RAND, and at National Physical Laboratory (NPL) were parallel to each other although none of the researchers from three organizations knew about it. Furthermore, Roberts and the DARPA enhanced the specifications and structure of the ARPANET. For the following years, several other improvements were done, until other computers were able to be connected to the ARPANET. Other network software was developed and more computers were added to the ARPANET (Leiner et.al, 2003).
In 1972, the first demonstration of the ARPANET to the public was conducted at the International Computer Communication Conference by Bob Kahn, the same person responsible for the architectural design of the ARPANET. This was also the time when electronic mail was introduced. Thus, ARPANET evolved to become the Internet (Leiner et.al, 2003).
Evolution of the Internet
The success of the Internet is attributed to the need to satisfy the basic needs of the community and to use the community effectively to further “push the infrastructure forward.” The first community to use the Internet consisted of researchers who worked closely to be able to achieve the demonstrations of the packet switching technology. However, as Internet was introduced to the public, not only were the researchers and workers at the DARPA used it but the general public as well. The growth of the Internet can also be attributed to the growing need for a coordination mechanism. It then led to the commercialization of the Internet. It would be interesting to note that Internet was initially seen as a “nuisance add-on” to the buyers’ networking solutions. Furthermore, there was no definite answer as to how the technology would work or what the applications were for the Internet. Further researches were conducted to resolve this problem (Leiner et.al, 2003).
The evolution of the Internet has brought with it new applications. It is possible to communicate with friends and other people through emails and chats and video conferencing. It is possible to download and upload files, including songs, documents, and videos and so on. The Internet has also revolutionized the information age. Students and teachers alike turn to Internet surfing for information needs. Furthermore, companies saw the Internet as a useful tool to market their products to customers around the world.
Rise of Cybercrimes
As previously mentioned, the Internet is a powerful tool. Many companies established their own web sites to make the conduct of business easier, especially for their customers. Furthermore, the Internet enabled the company and its customers to conduct business transactions that take less time. As more and more businesses and entrepreneurs resorted to the Internet, it provides many people with a way to earn fast cash. It became popular among customers to do their shopping online, as this is easier and convenient. To further serve the needs of their customers, companies choose to conduct business through eCommerce (“Introduction to eCommerce,” 2006).
Nearly everything can be found in the Internet: shopping centers, ticket reservations, books and music, telephone directories and guides, discussion boards, goods and services and many more. With regards to conducting business online, most of companies would require registration into their sites. This means that customers need to provide the company with their personal information such as name, address, contact numbers, and credit card numbers. Not only companies conducting business online require this method. Social networking sites, gaming sites, online brokers, and online electronic mail servers require a customer to provide personal information.
Although Internet is a very helpful tool in so many ways, some people found it useful to carry on with their illegal activities. Authorities were faced with the problem of regulating the traffic in the Internet and stopping any illegal acts which are considered as Internet crimes or cybercrimes. As more people become experts in tune with the growing complexity of information technologies, they also become adept at intruding computers and making use of private and confidential information to use for their own benefit. This kind of activity gave birth to the concept of ‘hacking.’
Security and Privacy in the Internet
Security and privacy are among the hotly debated topics when it comes to providing private information in the Internet. This stems from the argument that the Internet is an overexposed world, thus it would be difficult to provide privacy and security to the customers who conduct transactions in the Internet. There are photos uploaded to social networking sites such as Friendster and videos on Youtube. Surely, these cannot be considered private as they are easily accessible to anyone anywhere in the world. However, different people have also different ideas about what privacy is and what things are private. Some people post their photos in the Internet with the thought that those are private photos and are only available for their viewing. Cases in the past would indicate that private information posted in a public world will not be considered private anymore (Solove, 2007, p.163).
Some people mention the Fourth Amendment with regards to privacy, as it “protects the rights of individuals to be secure in their homes, papers, and effects against unreasonable search and seizure without probable cause issues by a court of law” (Bidgoli, 2004, p.270). The amendment was compromised with the Patriot Act in 2001. The Patriot Act was passed in response to the September 11 attacks. This gives the government the right and power to access a person’s private information such as tax records and medical records. Furthermore, the Patriot Act gives the government the right to establish secret searches into one’s homes without notifying the person (American Civil Liberties Union, 2003).
Aside from these, the Patriot Act also led to the development of Spyware to log Internet activities. This software also allows the government and individuals to monitor the use of computer. In some cases, Internet service providers (ISPs) may obtain user information without a court order. In addition, the government is able to investigate computer trespassing without a court order. With these provisions, these may affect the way the users use Internet for their information needs (Bidgoli, 2004, p.270).
Types of Internet Crimes that Compromise Private Information
One of the popular social networking sites, Facebook, introduced a new feature in 2006, called News Feed. This feature alerts other users whenever their friends made changes in their profiles. News Feed quickly alerted its users about a new photo uploaded or additional information included. This feature was met by objections by its users due to the extensiveness of the exposure. Many people thought that it was completely unnecessary as even the littlest change was made known to every user. One of the users explained that the contents in one profile were visible to every person who cared and who wanted to know. However, “information was thrown down the throats of everyone” with the launch of News Feed (Solove, 2007, p.169).
Although this does not qualify as an Internet crime, the Facebook incident shows just how possible it is to make public one’s private information in the Internet. Not only is this kind of incident occurs in the Internet. There are other types of Internet crimes that have victimized and will continue to victimize Internet users.
Internet fraud is literally robbing people online. As more opportunities are presented to people with regards to conducting business online, some opportunists take this chance to offer scams to unsuspecting victims. Offenders make use of Internet components such as email or websites to offer fraudulent solicitations to victims. Furthermore, these offenders make their schemes look legitimate. With these activities, offenders harm consumers and the legitimate company as well (Salinger, 2004, p.439). There are many other types of Internet crimes. Some of these involve victims who are convinced to make fraudulent wire transfers or to illegally resend merchandise in distant locations (Hinders, 2009).
Some of the most common Internet frauds include bogus credit card offers, business opportunities, charity scams, general merchandise sales, advance fee loans, information services, investment scams, pyramid scams, scholarship scams, and online auctions. These scams are so prevalent that in 2002 alone, the number of online auction fraud comprised 90% of all Internet crimes (Salinger, 2004, p.439). In addition, some scams involve luring victims to give details about their personal banking information in exchange of large amount of money (Salinger, 2004, p.xxii).
Stimulus scams. Offenders make use of stimulus scams by sending email or website which indicates that the victim is eligible for an economic stimulus payment. The only thing that the victim needs to do is to send a form to obtain the payment. In most instances, the offender make the message appear legitimate so that it is effective in luring victims. In addition, offenders ask that the victim send a processing fee in return for a larger check. However, the victim never lays his hand on the promised money. Sometimes offenders do not ask for a processing fee but for the victim’s bank account number where the money can be deposited. When the victim gives the number, the offenders use this information to take advantage of the bank account or to make new accounts using the victim’s personal information (Federal Trade Commission, 2009).
In some cases, victims are lured to go to websites and click on links or call phony numbers. Clicking on links can thus install software or spyware on the victim’s computer. Thus, the offender can take hold of the victim’s personal information for his own use. As many people were tricked into doing this, authorities have warned the public about not trusting the stimulus programs offered in exchange of personal information. Also, the public must refrain from falling prey to this kind of offers which ask for personal information such as the credit card number or bank account number (Federal Trade Commission, 2009).
Pishing. Phishing is defined as an email scam which obtains personal information from the victim through the use of fake emails and websites. It is aligned with credit card fraud, email fraud, and identity theft. In addition, the email message used is designed to look legitimate. In truth, the email is a forgery, and instructs the victim to visit a website where he is to provide his username, password and other personal information or to renew his private account information (Miller, 2008, pp.126-127; Leahy, 2005).
Pharming. Pharming is a similar Internet scam to phishing. The difference is that the offender, also called ‘pharmer,’ redirects the victim to a fake website whenever he accesses his bank’s web site. Unknowingly, the victim provides his username and password to the fake web site. Pharming can occur in four ways. The first is spoofing a legitimate domain’s name. The second way is using harmful software or malware such as viruses. Trojans, which are commonly used in pharming, can capture private data secretly. Furthermore, these malwares can be used by the pharmer to redirect the victim to the fake website. The third way is through domain hijacking. It indicates that the pharmer steals a legitimate website and redirecting Internet traffic to the fake website. The last way is through domain name server (DNS) poisoning wherein the poisoning occurs as a result of malware or network vulnerabilities (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, 2005).
In some instances, the pharmer obtains the victim’s personal information when the latter opens the email message from the offender. The email message contains a virus which installs itself into the victim’s computer. When the victim tries to visit the legitimate web site, the virus redirects the victim to the fake website. When the victim provides personal information into the fake website, the pharmer acquires the username and password (Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, n.d.).
This is among the most common Internet crimes in the United States. Identity theft is defined as the offender’s misuse of one’s personal or financial information for the offender’s criminal activity. Most of the cases involving identity fraud result to financial loss to a bank (Salinger, 2004, p.77). In some instances, an offender took hold of the victim’s credit card and used it to make purchases, open accounts, and commit other crimes using the victim’s identity. Naturally, victims are the ones facing the nightmare when collection agencies demand them to pay debts caused by the offender. Furthermore, victims are usually left to mend their reputation as well as paying all the debts and purchases made by the identity thief (Sullivan, 2004, p.ix).
Identity theft has become so complex that the impostors can easily get the victim’s personal information for his own use. It is now possible for an identity theft to obtain one’s credit card number, driver’s license or birth certificate and proceed with transactions which could cost the victim a hefty amount of money (Sullivan, 2004, p.xv). In some cases, offenders raid the victim’s bank account and create new accounts or identities (Sullivan, 2004, p.xvi).
One of the identity theft cases, which was considered to be the largest in U.S. history, involved an “insider” who took advantage of his privileges as a help desk employee, and who had access to his company’s clients’ codes and passwords. The insider was Philip Cummings, who worked for a company in New York. He could download any or all of the consumer credit reports. Eventually, some of Nigerian officials approached Cummings and offered him money in exchange of copies of the credit reports. It lasted for a few years, as Cummings continued this illegal activity even after he left the company (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2004).
As a result, a lot of people lose thousands of personal savings. Their credit cards were charged with faked charges. In addition, some of the private information in their bank accounts was changed so that new checks and credit were mailed to the thieves. Even after the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other authorities solved the case, it has done enough damage to the victims (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2004).
This type of Internet crime is different from other crimes in that it does not involve an offender using private information for financial gains. However, it still stands that the offender uses the victim’s personal information. Specifically, cyberstalking refers to the use of computer communications such as email and instant messaging to harass another person. Most of these cyber stalkers are hard to identity as they use usernames. Furthermore, the anonymity that the Internet provides makes it all the more difficult to apprehend them (Mass.gov, 2009).
Cyberstalking generally victimizes women, teenagers, and children. Now that social networking websites are regularly used by people of all ages, cyberstalking becomes easier for offenders. This is because private details about the person such as friends, family, and schedule are readily available through these sites. Also, cyberstalking can lead to sexual assault if the offender successfully convinced the victim to personally meet (Hinders, 2009).
Cyberstalking can happen in several ways. In most cases, the offender and the victim used to have a relationship online or in real life. Also, cyberstalking begins after the relationship ended. Sometimes, cyberstalking begins after an offender obtains a victim’s personal information from the Internet. As mentioned, victims usually post identifying data in the Internet such as their phone numbers or address. The cyberstalkers can further use search engines to find additional information about their victims (Mass.gov, 2009).
Internet is a network of computers to facilitate sharing of information. While the Internet offers many benefits in terms of eCommerce, entertainment, and information available to anyone, it also offers a stage for the conduct of illegal activities. The complexity and prevalence of the abovementioned types of Internet crimes would show just how compromised a person’s personal information is.
With further developments into the use of Internet and other software to make transactions easier and more convenient for users, Internet crimes will accordingly adopt to these. More people become connected to the Internet, thus issues concerning privacy and security grow exponentially. People are victimized by others by through Internet fraud/scams, which include stimulus scams, phishing, and pharming. Internet scams involve the use of some components of the Internet to lure victims into giving out personal information in exchange of money. Phishing and pharming, in particular, make use of fake emails and websites to obtain usernames and passwords of unsuspecting victims. Furthermore, a large number of people experience cyberstalking and identity theft, wherein the offender got a hold of their credit card number of bank account number and used them for financial gains. These incidents are traumatizing for victims, who are left to mend their reputation and their financial expenses.
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