Cybercrime is crime committed via the Internet and computer systems. One category of cybercrimes are those affecting the confidentiality, integrity and availability of data and computer systems; they include: unauthorised access to computer systems, illegal interception of data transmissions, data interference (damaging, deletion, deterioration, alteration of suppression of data), system interference (the hindering without right of the functioning of a computer or other device), forgery, fraud, identity theft.
Other types of cybercrimes are content-related, and involve the production, offering, distribution, procurement and possession of online content deemed as illegal according to national laws: online child sexual abuse material, material advocating a terrorist-related act, extremist material (material encouraging hate, violence or acts of terrorism), cyber-bullying (engaging in offensive, menacing or harassing behaviour through the use of technology).
Cybercrime is part of a broader cybersecurity approach, and is aimed at ensuring Internet safety and security.
Cybercrime: Threats and attacks
The techniques used to facilitate the types of cybercrime that affect the confidentiality, integrity and availability of data and systems are very diverse and more and more sophisticated. Some of the most widespread techniques include:
Malicious software: This includes viruses, spyware, and other unwanted software that is installed on computers and other devices without permission and performs unwanted tasks, often for the benefit of the attacker. These programs can damage devices, and can be used to steal personal information, monitor and control online activity, send spam and commit fraud, as well as infect other machines on the network. They also can make devices vulnerable to viruses and deliver unwanted or inappropriate online advertisements.
Viruses, trojan horses, adware, and spyware are all types of malware. A virus can replicate itself and spread to other devices, without the user being aware. Although some viruses are latent, most of them are intended to interfere with data or affect the performance of devices (reformatting the hard disk, using up computer memory, etc). A trojan horse is a type of malware that is often disguised as legitimate software. Trojans can be employed by cyber-thieves and hackers trying to gain access to users’ systems. Users are typically tricked by some form of social engineering into loading and executing Trojans on their systems. Once activated, Trojans can enable cyber-criminals to spy on users, steal sensitive data, and gain backdoor access to users’ system. Adware collects marketing data and other information without the user’s knowledge, or redirects search requests to certain advertising websites. Spyware monitors users, gathers information about them and transmits it to interested parties, without the users being aware. Types of information gathered can include: the websites visited, browser and system information, the computer IP address, as well as more sensitive information such as e-mail addresses, and passwords. Additionally, malware can cause browser hijacking, in which the user’s browser settings are modified without permission. The software may create desktop shortcuts, display advertising pop-ups, as well as replace existing home pages or search pages with other pages.
Botnets: Botnets are networks of hijacked personal computers that perform remotely commanded tasks without the knowledge of their owners. A computer is turned into a bot after being infected with specific type of malware which allows remote control. Botnets are used for a wide variety of crimes and attacks: distributing spam, extending malware infections to more computers, contributing to pay-per-click fraud, or identity theft. One of the most worrying uses of botnets is to perform distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks.
Researchers and cybersecurity companies have warned that botnets are becoming the biggest Internet security threat, as they are increasing the effects of viruses and other malicious programs, raising information theft, and boosting denial of service attacks. As an illustration of the dimension of this threat, the Simda botnet, taken down in April 2015, affected computers in 190 countries and involved the use of 14 command-and-control servers in five countries.
Denial of service (DoS) attacks: These attacks involve flooding a computer or website with information, preventing them to function properly. These attacks are aimed to exhaust the resources available to a network, application or service, in order to prevent users from accessing them. They are more frequently aimed at businesses, rather than individuals. Distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks are those attacks in which multiple compromised computers attack a single target.
A DoS attack does not usually result in the theft of information or other security loss, but it can cause financial or time loss to the affected organisation or individual, because of its effects (particular network services becoming unavailable, websites ceasing operation, targeted email accounts prevented from receiving legitimate emails, etc.)
Since cybercrime transcends borders, any legal framework needs to be common among countries and this requires improved international cooperation. This international cooperation may be bilateral, regional, continental, or universal.
Most bilateral agreements on law enforcement come by way of Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties (MLATs). This provides an effective tool for cross-border investigations and prosecution.
At regional level, various regional blocks have developed frameworks for their regions in cybercrime legislation. The Organization of American States (OAS) created a framework of guidelines to manage cybercrime as early as 1999. In 2009 the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) adopted a directive on fighting cybercrime, and in 2011 the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) presented the Cybersecurity Draft Model Bill. In June 2014, the African Union adopted the Convention on Cybersecurity and Personal Data Protection.
Several international frameworks have already been created to fight cybercrime, the most prominent of which is the Council of Europe’s Convention on Cybercrime, which contains provisions on types of offenses, procedural Laws and international cooperation among countries.
The application of technical solutions to combat cybercrime has always been the preferred option for most cybersecurity experts. However, most law enforcement personnel are not equipped with the requisite technological knowledge while most cybercriminals are experts in computer technology. Various organisations, such as the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), have initiated capacity building programmes for developing countries in Africa, the Caribbean, and Pacific as well as other countries in legislative drafting and prosecution of cybercrime.
As measures to combat cybercrime continue to multiply, various organisations have established their individual structures for cybersecurity. It is not uncommon for private organisations to have their own in-house rules on the acceptable use of their networks and also to educate their clients or staff on the issues of cybercrime. Some groups of organisations have also set up Computer Emergency Response Teams (CERTs) to assist in the technical handling of cybercrime, especially those targeted at computer networks.
Several multinational organisations have also contributed to the fight against cybercrime. These organisations have a unique role as some of them control the infrastructure on which the Internet runs, and include the US National Cyber Security Alliance and INTERPOL.
Other regional legal instruments include: the League of Arab States Convention on Combating IT Offences (2010), the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Agreement on Cooperation in the Field of International Information Security, and the African Union Convention on the Confidence and Security in Cyberspace (2014).
On the global level, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is the leading organisation, with a set of international instruments to fight cybercrime. Since cybercrime often involves an organised approach, the UNODC’s Convention against Transnational Organised Crime could be used in the fight against cybercrime. Additionally, Interpol facilitates a global network of 190 national police organisations, which plays a key role in the cross-border investigation of cybercrime. The ITU hosts the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) implementation process in cybersecurity, labelled the ITU Global Security Agenda.