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Are old laws enough for new “Cyber” crimes?

Tuesday, 15 April 2008 — by

Crime on the internet isn’t new. In fact, it’s now an established area of crime. But does so-called “cyber crime” warrant new laws?

Dmitri Alperovitch, director of intelligence analysis at a company called Secure Computing thinks existing laws cover new cyber crimes:

“These crimes, when you follow the money, when you look at what they’re actually trying to do, are really covered by laws that are hundreds of years old,” Alperovitch said during a session at the RSA security conference. “It’s my belief that new laws for the most part are not only not needed but a lot of times are a waste of paper and a waste of time.”

This might well be the case, but it’s not the type of crime that’s the issue here, it’s the scale of the crimes being perpetrated.

Electronic theft — law & order in a digital world

Alperovitch makes a good argument, one of reducing wasted and duplicated effort. Indeed, resources ought to be directed to dealing with the crimes themselves, rather than the legislation, surely?

The problem is more nuanced than that. However, here’s where I step out into the wide blue yonder and speculate, since I know precious little about law, I can only really make a best guess.

And has that ever stopped me before? Damn right it hasn’t! Fortune favours the brave, and all that. With that caveat out of the way, the way I see things is one of proportion and not repetition.

Even if internet crimes are covered by existing law, their perpetrators are often not. Of the three men offered up as examples by Alperovitch, all three men operated internationally. So if these people commit crimes either in Britain or America, it’s questionable whether their nation of origin is likely to secede to an extradition treaty.

Of the three men, one has been subject to British law, which is scant consolation to all those that have suffered the inconveniences as a result of these mens’ actions.

But in the case of Dmitry Golubov, “a Ukrainian alleged to be an original member of Carderplanet”, he escaped punishment and went on to found the Internet Party of Ukraine. Yes, that’s a legitimate political party.

Consider how wiretapping by the police requires clearance by a judge, both in Britain and the US. As far as I’m aware, this court-sanctioned wiretap is only applicable within the country of its origin. Imagine then how the US would have to escalate a particular theft before it could be actioned with the appropriate resources.

Do they use their CIA to catch a card skimmer in Pakistan? Probably not. But what if that same card skimmer is funding an Islamist terrorist paramilitary organization in Afghanistan?

Going back to the original laws that Alperovitch feels already cover these crimes, while he’s probably right in principle, I don’t think he’s factored in issues of internationality, diplomacy or scale — and it is these issues that are breaking the backs of our existing case law.

More worryingly — and this being a very relevant issue right now, given the factionalized extremism of certain religions — the internet offers itself up as a new weapon in the war of information:

“My concern is that some informational mechanisms could be fixed in place to skew and distort news to reflect the tastes and political sensibilities of a select few and we might not know what’s happening.”

In this scenario, the dividing wall between free speech and inciting violence dissolves at the very edges where we live our lives.

Bad Guys use Instant Messaging

Thing is, policing these crimes isn’t even scratching the surface of the problem. We’ve all seen the movies and how they trace calls and hack into chat messages and secure corporate websites. If only it was that easy!

In reality, digital eavesdropping isn’t all it’s cracked up to be:

“Computing and information scientists Eric Cronin, Micah Sherr and Matt Blaze of the University of Pennsylvania have investigated the reliability of current eavesdropping tools and found them to be lacking. “Obtaining ‘high fidelity’ transcripts is harder than previously assumed,” they say in a forthcoming issue of the International Journal of Security and Networks.”

I recommend you read the full article, as it outlines the challenges faced by even the most well-equipped and diligent law enforcement agencies.

What I find odd is that Alperovitch hasn’t spotted what I see as a glaring contradiction in his argument:

“The profile of arrested criminals is changing from tech savvy teens to traditional criminals with mile-long rap sheets for drugs and propagating fake checks.”

This transition does not make the job of either the police or the legislators any easier. In fact, because these organized criminals “distance themselves from the illicit activities with several layers of middlemen”, coupled with the problematic nature of electronic eavesdropping, these out-sourcing outlaws are showing old laws some new ‘Net crime tricks a clean pair of heels, despite their dirty pasts…

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Paula → Tuesday, 15 April 2008 @ 13:49 BDT

Well, you already know about one hit I have taken recently from my work credit card number being taken somehow – turns out they also got my personal check card number. Cyber crime is real and I am all for as many laws as it takes to get this crap under control. And we are only talking about the $$ crimes, not those done with intent to harm children – those bastards need to fry.

Sorry if that was too rough for a Tuesday! :) I’ll get back to my coffee now!! :)

doug m → Tuesday, 15 April 2008 @ 17:50 BDT

i believe they should look into creating a set of laws that are used by most countries to govern crime on the internet. as stated in the article, a person doing crime in one country might not be under penalty of law in that country, but if we had a set of laws that all internet users had to abide by, it would make arresting and dealing with cyber crime a little easier

Wayne Smallman → Wednesday, 16 April 2008 @ 10:22 BDT

Hi guys!

As far as I’m aware, there are international laws, such as extradition treaties, but not all countries want to abide by them, or participate.

Not too long ago, Spain was the high ground for many criminals in Britain, but now they’ve signed onto to that scheme.

My feeling is, there are still senior politicians and legislators who either don’t take the internet seriously, or don’t fully understand it’s value…

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