Cybercrime and Cybersecurity: Did We Leave the Windows Open?

Cybercrime is often put into three categories: 1) the use of a computer as a communication tool for illegal activities, 2) using computers as a storage device for illegal material, and 3) the act of targeting a computer.[1] According to the WGIG,  cybersecurity “can be understood as the ability of a network or an information system to resist, at a given level of confidence, accidental events or malicious actions.”[2]

A point that several scholars make is that many crimes committed in cyberspace are not in and of themselves new, but rather extremely old crimes – such as fraud, piracy, and counterfeiting– that are being committed in new ways.[3] While this is undoubtedly true, the crimes have become considerably more serious as technology has allowed a greater number of people to be affected with every security breach.  The 2013 Norton Report states that in the last 12 months, 378 million people (in the 24 countries surveyed) have been victims of cybercrime.[4] With an average cost of $298 per victim, this amounts to a total cybercrime cost of $113 billion per year.[5] For comparison, this is roughly equivalent to Angola’s 2012 GDP.[6]

Even more serious than financial losses, however, is the potential threat of cybercrime targeting critical infrastructure. The White House states that the “term critical infrastructure means systems and assets, whether physical or virtual, so vital […] that the incapacity or destruction of such systems and assets would have a debilitating impact on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination of those matters.”[7] US leadership has become cognizant of these threats, as is shown by   Executive Order 13636, signed February 12, 2013, which required the creation of a critical infrastructure framework.

The concept of an “internet of things” also helps explain why cybercrime is such a large threat. I.P. addresses are being put on everything from home security to package tracking, which makes compromising critical infrastructure of aspects of our lives easier than ever before. Added to this, lackadaisical security habits on phones is a growing source of concern.

Marian Merritt, an internet safety advocate for Symantec, explains: “If this was a test, mobile consumers would be failing […]While consumers are protecting their computers, there is a general lack of awareness to safeguard their smartphones and tablets. It’s as if they have alarm systems for their homes, but they’re leaving their cars unlocked with the windows wide open.”[8]

Knowledge is one of the most effective cybersecurity methods, and perhaps it’s time to ask ourselves, “Did we leave the windows open?”


[1] Derrick Cogburn, “Cybersecurity and Cybercrime,” Lecture to course SIS-628 Innovation in Information and Communication Technologies at American University, Washington, DC, 30 September 2013.
[2] “Draft WGIG Issue Paper on Cybersecurity and Cybercrime”, 1
[3] Ibid
[4] “2013 Norton Report,” Symantec, accessed 4 October 2013 at
http://www.symantec.com/content/en/us/about/presskits/b-norton-report-2013.en_ca.pdf
[5] Ibid
[6] World DataBank, accessed 4 October 2013 at
http://databank.worldbank.org/data/views/reports/tableview.aspx?isshared=true&ispopular=series&pid=2
[7] “Executive Order — Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity,” The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, 12 February 2013, accessed 4 10 2013 at
http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/02/12/executive-order-improving-critical-infrastructure-cybersecurity
[8] “Cost per cybercrime victim goes up by half – Norton Report,” Siliconrepublic, 2 October 2013, accessed 4 October 2013 at http://www.siliconrepublic.com/strategy/item/34382-cost-per-cybercrime-victim

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