Open main menu

International review of criminal policy - Nos. 43 and 44/Perpetrators of computer crime

C. Perpetrators of computer crime

32. History has shown that computer crime is committed by a broad range of persons: students, amateurs, terrorists and members of organized crime groups. What distinguishes them is the nature of the crime committed. The individual who accesses a computer system without further criminal intent is much different from the employee of a financial institution who skims funds from customer accounts.

33. The typical skill level of the computer criminal is a topic of controversy. Some claim that skill level is not an indicator of a computer criminal, while others claim that potential computer criminals are bright, eager, highly motivated subjects willing to accept a technological challenge, characteristics that are also highly desirable in an employee in the data-processing field.

34. It is true that computer criminal behavior cuts across a wide spectrum of society, with the age of offenders ranging from 10 to 60 years and their skill level ranging from novice to professional. Computer criminals, therefore, are often otherwise average persons rather than supercriminals possessing unique abilities and talents. 8 Any person of any age with a modicum of skill, motivated by the technical challenge, by the potential for gain, notoriety or revenge, or by the promotion of ideological beliefs, is a potential computer criminal.

35. According to a number of studies, however, employees represent the largest threat, and indeed computer crime has often been referred to as an insider crime. One study estimated that 90 per cent of economic computer crimes were committed by employees of the victimized companies. A recent survey in North America and Europe indicated that 73 per cent of the risk to computer security was attributable to internal sources and only 23 per cent to external criminal activity.

36. As advances continue to be made in remote data processing, the threat from external sources will probably increase. With the increasing connectedness of systems and the adoption of more user-friendly software, the sociological profile of the computer offender may change.

37. Owing to the greater complexity of certain computer routines and augmented security measures, it is becoming increasingly unlikely that any one person will possess all the information needed to use a computer system for criminal purposes. Organized computer criminal groups, composed of members from all over the world, are beginning to emerge. Corresponding with this increasing cooperation in criminal activity, the escalating underground use of electronic bulletin boards for clandestine criminal communication has been detected around the world. Rapidly improving telecommunication technology has added to the threat from external sources. Computer-based voice mailbox systems, for example, are being used by the computer criminal community to exchange stolen access numbers, passwords and software.

38. The advent of viruses and similar mechanisms whereby computer software can be made to act almost on its own initiative poses a new and significant threat. Sophisticated viruses and devices such as "logic bombs" and "trojan horses", discussed below, can be targeted for specific objectives at specific industries to commit a variety of traditional criminal offences, from mere mischief of extortion. These crimes, furthermore, can be committed immediately or can be planted to spring at a future date.

39. Computer criminals have gained notoriety in the media and appear to have gained more social acceptability than traditional criminals. The suggestion that the computer criminal is a less harmful individual, however, ignores the obvious. The current threat is real. The future threat will be directly proportional to the advances made in computer technology.

This work is excerpted from an official document of the United Nations. The policy of this organisation is to keep most of its documents in the public domain in order to disseminate "as widely as possible the ideas (contained) in the United Nations Publications".

Pursuant to UN Administrative Instruction ST/AI/189/Add.9/Rev.2 available in English only, these documents are in the public domain worldwide:

  1. Official records (proceedings of conferences, verbatim and summary records, ...)
  2. United Nations documents issued with a UN symbol
  3. Public information material designed primarily to inform the public about United Nations activities (not including public information material that is offered for sale).