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Appalachian State University Professor’s Book Details History of Cybercrime and Provides Case Studies

Feb. 5, 2014. Cybercrime, criminal activity conducted over a computer network or the Internet, has grown in frequency and sophistication since the 1950s when a group of college students began breaching computers to steal information. While their original intent seemingly was benign, a range of theft using computer technology soon followed. 

cybercrimeDr. Cathy Marcum, an assistant professor in Appalachian State University’s Department of Government and Justice Studies, is the author of the book “Cyber Crime,” published by Wolters Kluwer. The book provides a history of cybercrime and case studies related to individuals’ use of technology to commit a crime. While the target audience is students enrolled in criminal justice, computer science or related disciplines, the book also is of value to law enforcement officials and the general public. 

Marcum’s research interests include cybercrime and victimization. She said she wrote the book to give students and others a better perspective of how the criminal use of technology has evolved from the early crimes of breaching computer networks and stealing long distance telephone service to child pornography, phishing and malware scams, and more recently cyber terrorism, stalking and bullying.

“Cybercrime is a fairly new phenomenon and the Internet, in the grand scheme of things, and is a new phenomenon compared to other types of crime,” she said. “When we think of crime, most students and educators think of it as something physical that we can map off with the yellow crime tape that you see on crime shows. With the Internet, the crime easily can be global. I wanted to provide the historical context of cybercrime and how crimes can be committed online.”

All cybercrime doesn’t have to be sophisticated. Young people and college students still engage in piracy, by downloading music or movies without paying for them or logging into a person’s Facebook or email account as a joke, Marcum said. “They don’t really understand the repercussions of what they are doing,” she said.

That especially holds true for teenagers who might “sext,” emailing a nude or sexy image of themselves to a boyfriend. “If a minor girl sends an image to her 18-year-old boyfriend who then passes it on to his friends, then he has committed a federal child pornography crime,” Marcum said. “The way that youth are using technology and not really understanding how it can be a criminal enterprise is disturbing.”

Marcum said that naiveté is due in part to the current generation not knowing a time when technology wasn’t an integral part of their life. “They have no idea what it’s like not to be able to check their email constantly or text someone,” she said.

The most serious forms of cybercrime in Marcum’s view are financial cybercrime, such financial data theft and on-line shopping fraud that can result in the loss of a person’s financial identity, and sex crimes, such as child pornography and human trafficking. “Now that these sex crimes are committed online, there are so many ways to elude detection by law enforcement agencies,” she said.

Phishing, which leads to identity theft, is one cybercrime that is almost impossible to stop. It involves email solicitations that appear to be from official businesses or agencies but are designed to obtain a person’s Social Security number, credit card numbers, bank account information and passwords. “These are very intelligent individuals who know how to outwit and out scam and remain one step ahead of law enforcement,” Marcum said.

There is no typical profile of an Internet criminal, which also hinders efforts to arrest and prosecute those responsible for the crime. “They can be of any age and in any location,” Marcum said. “For certain crimes, such as hacking or phishing, we generally see college-age males with higher level IQs. But the digital pirate who is stealing songs off the Internet can be any age, any race. There is not a typical person to look for.”

Fighting cybercrime takes money, human resources and specialized training, Marcum said. When that occurs, there is a higher level of investigations and arrests. “But the problem is, small towns don’t have enough resources to focus on cybercrime. They are doing the best that they can, but it is generally the bigger cities that have the time and resources to investigate these crimes. Law enforcement officers tell me they need training going into the police academy and need follow-up training on a regular basis. Things change every day in terms of cybercrime.”

She thinks cyber stalking and cyberbullying will gain a greater focus by law enforcement in terms of punishing adults and juveniles and preventing the activities. “We have so many kids who are committing suicide as a result of bullying. I think that will soon have educational programs, such as the DARE program to fight drug use, to address cyberbullying,” she said.