10 ways to become a cyber-criminal

Submitted by
Alasdair Taylor
16th April 2011

The great thing about cyber-crimes is that they’re so easy to commit.  With a computer and an internet connection, you can commit all manner of crimes from the privacy of your bedroom.  You don’t need shot-guns, bolt-cutters, getaway cars or gangs of desperados.  If you follow the instructions in this post, you can be a master cyber-criminal in no time at all.

(1) Exercise your right to copy

Run-of-the-mill private copying won’t usually turn you into a criminal under English law (whatever FACT might want you to believe).  If piracy is your game, then you need to think big.  Under Section 107(2A) of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, there are two main routes to becoming an online copyright criminal:  either you can copy others’ copyright materials in the course of a business, or you can copy their materials to such an extent that the owner is “prejudicially” affected.  In either case, you need to know or have reason to believe that what you’re doing is infringing copyright.  Check out this introduction to copyright to make sure!

(2) Share with your peers

Again, peer-to-peer (p2p) file-sharing won’t earn you that coveted badge of criminal liability in the UK unless you’re acting in the course of a business or prejudicially affecting the owner.  If this strikes you as an unnecessarily arduous path to cyber-criminality, then you’ll have to set your sights further afield. File-sharers in some parts of the globe don’t need to try half so hard to attract criminal liability.  In 2005 Hong Kong made headlines with (reportedly) the first ever successful criminal prosecution of a private file-sharer.  Hong Kong file-sharers can look forward to a large fine and/or a stretch in prison.

(3) Wear a black hat

Section 1 of the Computer Misuse Act 1990 caters for both 1337 hackers and script kiddies, with the offences being defined by reference to the intention of the hacker, rather than the success of the break-in.  The key question under Section 1 is whether you intend to secure unauthorised access to a computer program or data.   The more ambitious black hat, however, may want add liability under Section 2 of the 1990 Act by committing the Section 1 offence with the intent to facilitate the commission of a further serious criminal offence.

(4) Spread infections

If you think bad programming is good programming, then you might try virus writing.  You can either adapt someone else’s code, or if you’re really good (i.e. bad), write your own malware.  The distribution of a virus that harvests victims’ data or otherwise “secures access” to a computer program or data may fall under Section 1 of the 1990 Act.  If you’re more interested in some good old-fashioned computer vandalism, Section 3 of 1990 Act may be of help.  To fall within Section 3, you will need to intentionally or recklessly distribute a computer virus that will impair the operation of a computer, prevent or hinder access to any program or data held in a computer, impair the operation of a computer program or the reliability of data on a computer, or enable any of the these things to be done.

(5) Go phishing

Another favourite cyber-crime is phishing. To be a successful phisherman (or phisherwoman), you need the right bait.  Email, SMS and IM will be the primary tools of your trade, and if your messaging is convincing you might just be able to hook some valuable financial information from your unsuspecting victims.  This will bring you clearly within the ambit of Section 2 of the Fraud Act 2006, which makes it an offence to dishonestly make a false or untrue representation, with the intention of making a gain or causing a loss.

(6) Masquerade

But why stop at phishing?  What better way to use those details that you’ve managed to catch on your hook than to exploit your victim’s online accounts?  Again, Section 2 of the Fraud Act 2006 applies.  An alternative is to supply those details you’ve stolen to others online for use in fraudulent activity.

(7) Defame a character

The blogosphere is rife with anonymous libels.  However, here in the UK, libel isn’t a criminal offence, so you’ll have to bring your actions within the ambit of another jurisdiction’s laws to get a criminal record for defamation.  One jurisdiction which might prove attractive is Singapore, where defamation can land you in prison.

(8) Deprave and corrupt

But while online defamation won’t get you far in the UK criminal underworld, the publication of obscene content in the UK may. Under Section 2 of the Obscene Publications Act 1959, anyone who transmits obscene articles electronically will be guilty of an offence, regardless of any personal gain. Content falling under this term includes any material which, if taken as a whole, may deprave or corrupt its audience.

(9) Put on an unseemly display

Lawyers distinguish between obscene and indecent material.  The laws against indecent materials are concerned with protecting the public’s moral sensibilities from what Geoffrey Robinson QC calls “unseemly displays”.  Material that isn’t considered by the law to be so disgusting as to be obscene, may nevertheless be indecent.   Because websites can be public spaces, the laws on indecency may apply – so get publishing.

(10) Share official secrets

If you have access to official secrets, why not share them with the world via the internet?   You can commit official secrets crimes without having “signed the Official Secrets Act“, although insiders have many more offences to choose from.  If you can get hold of information protected by the act and share it with your friends on a forum or two, you may well get a visit from Special Branch.

This article was researched and written by Katharine Byrne.

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