Cybercrime
(What is cybercrime?)

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"Cybercrime" sounds like something straight out of a science-fiction movie: no one can tell exactly what it entails and most people believe it will constitute a real threat only in a very different world, sometime in the distant future.
Unfortunately for most of us law-abiding citizens, cybercrime - unlike the majority of legitimate online economic activities - is flourishing. Last year, malicious attacks on US corporate websites rose by 100 per cent. In Russia, where it is growing at more than 200 per cent a year, police say cybercrime has become a challenge of the same magnitude as drugs and illegal arms trading. Last year, four-fifths of the world's companies reported virus attacks and nearly two-thirds of all web pages are thought to have been targeted by some sort of ill-intentioned activity.

Cybercrime refers to a ragbag of illegal activities involving the use of information technology. They range from financial fraud to website hacking, and encompass acts as diverse as industrial espionage and some forms of pornography and gambling. While politicians and legislators continue to squabble - after three years of debate the US and France still disagree over whether racist e-mail is illegal - the online community has reached one unanimous conclusion: cybercrime is bad for business, because it scares customers away.

Until consumers are reassured that their personal and financial details are safe, they will remain wary of making purchases on the web. This reassurance can come in two forms. The first, on which governments and multilateral organisations such as the Council of Europe are working, is to provide a clear legal framework protecting individuals from fraud and offering them the means to fight back should they become victims. The second, advocated by the private sector, is to make technology itself more secure.

A high degree of protection can only come from a combination of both these solutions. However, the web policing methods being considered by governments raise fears of potential abuse of individuals' right to privacy. Some proposals, such as the obligation to keep records of all electronic information for as long as several years, also threaten to impose insurmountable burdens on business. Luckily for companies, governments are notorious for failing to keep up with technological innovation. The private sector has a head start in the race to convince consumers that their business is safe with it, and to capitalise on the resulting gratitude. Or, in techno-jargon, companies have a "first-mover advantage" over government.

Published: September 18 2001 13:19GMT | Last Updated: September 21 2001 10:23GMT
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Articles:

Web of deceit
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