The term cybercrime refers to illegal activity conducted on the internet for the purposes of financial extortion, data theft, identity theft, espionage, and more.

Cybercrime is a criminal activity that either targets or uses a computer, a computer network, or a networked device. Most, but not all, cybercrime is committed by cybercriminals or hackers who want to make money. Cybercrime is carried out by individuals or organizations.

Some cybercriminals are organized, use advanced techniques, and are highly technically skilled. Others are novice hackers. Rarely, cybercrime aims to damage computers for reasons other than profit. These could be political or personal.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) divides cybercrime into three categories:

  • crimes in which the computing device is the target — for example, to gain network access;
  • crimes in which the computer is used as a weapon — for example, to launch a denial-of-service (DoS) attack; and
  • crimes in which the computer is used as an accessory to a crime — for example, using a computer to store illegally obtained data.

The Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime, to which the United States is a signatory, defines cybercrime as a wide range of malicious activities, including the illegal interception of data, system interferences that compromise network integrity and availability, and copyright infringements.

Types of cybercrime

Here are some specific examples of the different types of cybercrime:

  • Email and internet fraud.
  • Identity fraud (where personal information is stolen and used).
  • Theft of financial or card payment data.
  • Theft and sale of corporate data.
  • Cyberextortion (demanding money to prevent a threatened attack).
  • Ransomware attacks (a type of cyberextortion).
  • Cryptojacking (where hackers mine cryptocurrency using resources they do not own).
  • Cyberespionage (where hackers access government or company data).
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Cybercriminals may infect computers with viruses and malware to damage devices or stop them from working. They may also use malware to delete or steal data. Cybercrime that stops users using a machine or network, or prevents a business providing a software service to its customers, is called a Denial-of-Service (DoS) attack.

Cybercrime that uses computers to commit other crimes may involve using computers or networks to spread malware, illegal information, or illegal images. Sometimes cybercriminals conduct both categories of cybercrime at once. They may target computers with viruses first. Then, use them to spread malware to other machines or throughout a network.

Cybercriminals may also carry out what is known as a Distributed-Denial-of-Service (DDos) attack. This is similar to a DoS attack but cybercriminals use numerous compromised computers to carry it out.

The US Department of Justice recognizes the third category of cybercrime which is where a computer is used as an accessory to the crime. An example of this is using a computer to store stolen data.

The US has signed the European Convention of Cybercrime. The convention casts a wide net and there are numerous malicious computer-related crimes which it considers cybercrime. For example:

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  • Illegally intercepting or stealing data.
  • Interfering with systems in a way that compromises a network.
  • Infringing copyright.
  • Illegal gambling.
  • Selling illegal items online.
  • Soliciting, producing, or possessing child pornography.

How To Protect Yourself Against Cybercrime

So, now you understand the threat cybercrime represents, what are the best ways to protect your computer and your personal data? Here are our top tips:

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Keep Software And Operating System Up To Date

Keeping your software and operating system up to date ensures that you benefit from the latest security patches to protect your computer.

Use Anti-virus Software And Keep It Updated

Anti-virus software allows you to scan, detect, and remove threats before they become a problem. Having this protection in place helps to protect your computer and your data from cybercrime, giving you piece of mind. If you use anti-virus software, make sure you keep it updated to get the best level of protection.

Use Strong Passwords

Be sure to use strong passwords that people will not guess and do not record them anywhere. Or use a reputable password manager to generate strong passwords randomly to make this easier.

Never Open Attachments In Spam Emails

A classic way that computers get infected by malware attacks and other forms of cybercrime is via email attachments in spam emails. Never open an attachment from a sender you do not know.

Be Mindful Of Which Website URLs You Visit

Keep an eye on the URLs you are clicking on. Do they look legitimate? Avoid clicking on links with unfamiliar or spammy looking URLs. If your internet security product includes functionality to secure online transactions, ensure it is enabled before carrying out financial transactions online.

How Can Enterprises Prevent Cybercrime?

For companies, the most common attack vector comes via their staff. Employees are generally the weakest link in the security chain and hackers know that. This makes an internal cybersecurity strategy extremely important, in particular the training of employees on best practices.

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An effective cybersecurity strategy takes into consideration a defense-in-depth approach. Some measures include using two-factor authentication whenever possible, a disaster and data recovery plan, effective penetration testing, endpoint security, regular backups, and updated software.

Effects of Cybercrime On Businesses

The true cost of cybercrime is difficult to assess accurately. In 2018, McAfee released a report on the economic impact of cybercrime that estimated the likely annual cost to the global economy was nearly $600 billion, up from $45 billion in 2014.

While the financial losses due to cybercrime can be significant, businesses can also suffer other disastrous consequences as a result of criminal cyberattacks, including the following:

  • Damage to investor perception after a security breach can cause a drop in the value of a company.
  • In addition to potential share price drops, businesses may also face increased costs for borrowing and greater difficulty in raising more capital as a result of a cyberattack.
  • Loss of sensitive customer data can result in fines and penalties for companies that have failed to protect their customers’ data. Businesses may also be sued over the data breach.
  • Damaged brand identity and loss of reputation after a cyberattack undermine customers’ trust in a company and that company’s ability to keep their financial data safe. Following a cyberattack, firms not only lose current customers, but they also lose the ability to gain new customers.
  • Businesses may also incur direct costs from a criminal cyberattack, including increased insurance premium costs and the cost of hiring cybersecurity companies to do incident response and remediation, as well as public relations (PR) and other services related to an attack.
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Effects Of Cybercrime On National Defense

Cybercrimes may have public health and national security implications, making computer crime one of DOJ’s top priorities. In the United States, at the federal level, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Cyber Division is the agency within DOJ that is charged with combating cybercrime.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) sees strengthening the security and resilience of cyberspace as an important homeland security mission, and agencies such as the U.S. Secret Service (USSS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have special divisions dedicated to combating cybercrime.

USSS’ Electronic Crimes Task Force (ECTF) investigates cases that involve electronic crimes, particularly attacks on the nation’s financial and critical infrastructures. USSS also runs the National Computer Forensics Institute (NCFI), which provides state and local law enforcement, judges and prosecutors with training in computer forensics. The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), a partnership among the FBI, the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C) and the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), accepts online complaints from victims of internet crimes or interested third parties.

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