Over the past month you could not pick up a newspaper without finding an article about the recent Denial of Service (DOS) attacks on E-commerce sites over the Internet. This increase in Internet security problems and crimes, is paving the way for tougher legislation in regards to monitoring and tracking computer hackers. We the people should ask ourselves how far we should allow the federal government to go to catch online criminals. Legislation passed to address computer crimes should be carefully written as not to give government agencies powers that would infringe on innocent computer users rights.
The need for computer-related laws is undeniably necessary. Computer crimes are estimated to cost businesses billions of dollars each year throughout the United States. An accurate dollar amount cannot be compiled for losses programming companies sustain due to piracy of their software. Potential income is lost when copies of their programs are found easily via the Internet. Pirated software is distributed freely among underground Internet groups via email, File Transfer Protocols (FTP’s), newsgroups and various other means.
Individuals post copies of software that was either stolen from its company’s producers, or that was paid for originally for a one-user license. These copies of software posted in one or more of the above-mentioned ways, allow a single copy to be downloaded by nearly any number of people out of the million that have Internet access today. Hacking does not play a role in software theft until there is a need for the code (better known as programming) of the software to be reverse engineered.
Software companies instill certain protections to prevent their software from being freely distributed in the above manner. Hackers remove these protections or “reverse” what has been written into the software to allow this software to be used by anyone possessing a copy. Piracy is just one of many reasons federal legislation is necessary, but with the advancement of computer technology there has been a rising need for protection of persons using the Internet from crimes involving computers.
Hacking groups have used the Internet as a means to inflict damages against businesses, individuals, and even their own or other countries governments. Hackers use their knowledge of security flaws to exploit information or services from companies that use the Internet as a means of business. Hackers have been known to gain passwords, or access “backdoors” to web pages offering services such as information, product sales, or even online backing, or credit card information.
Once they have gotten through security, critical or personal information stored there can be altered, erased, or used to gain cash, dependent upon the situation. Individual’s private information stored on “hacked” web sites, whether it’s their own, or businesses storing information about them on these sites, can cause numerous problems or damages to them. These problems can range from a minor inconvenience to them, or extend into serious issues if the information was relating to social security numbers, or bank and credit card numbers.
Individuals have even had their identities used by criminals to commit illegal acts electronically, or to gain access to their victims credit and bank accounts. Governments, and their agencies are not immune to computer-related crimes; there are thousands of attacks each day on their servers that maintain massive amounts of information about people, and other critically important materials. Many hackers’ sole reasons for trying to access these sites are for their own personal satisfaction to know that they could deface, obtain access to them, or basically extort any information they wanted once they are in.
It is a well know fact that government computers are protected from the highest security available, and also watched over very closely, making them a very risky target for potential hackers, and computer vandals. Given all these above mentioned computer security threats and crimes, we must then try to develop laws to protect individuals that use computers for their means of pleasure, profit, and transfer of information. Legislation covering computer-related crimes is needed to be ever changing with new advances in technologies happening each day.
Unfortunately the evolution of laws is a very slow process. It can take the government years to pass a single law offering guidelines that regulating a single new advance in technology. We see problems in dealing with monopolies in the software industry today. Those enforcing them, if not carefully thought out can always misuse laws, however important they may seem to be needed at the time. By passing laws to pursue computer-related criminals, we can also take away from freedoms of innocent people.
Search and seizure laws used to gain evidence on criminals, can violate innocent parties also using the same equipment. In one case Steve Jackson, a computer game programmer, and maker of a game called “Hacker”, was charged for making games that published information on how to commit computer crimes. The seizure of his company’s computer equipment meant 8 persons working for him losing their jobs since the only means of making games was through the use of the seized equipment.
Lawmakers need to take in account many different, sometimes unseen of issues at the time of developing laws. We need to ensure that legislators are fully educated, and given every information necessary to making laws regarding technologies. Leaders in the computer industry should never be ruled out as a possible source in helping advise our public officials. Although laws maybe needed to fund and grant powers to law enforcement agencies in an expedient manner, this does not mean lawmakers should ever rush into making a law that could inadvertently take away innocent citizens rights.
Computer-related crime is unfortunately becoming a serious issue in relation to individuals, businesses, and governments’ welfares as we become more dependent upon electronic information exchange. Computer criminals are using the Internet as a means of high-tech crimes nowadays. With this ever growing, and changing problem of computer-related theft, and vandalism, we are requiring laws allowing us to combat these crimes. However, when developing these laws, we need to make sure the lawmakers are careful not to give powers that could be misused to harm innocent citizens in the process.