Almost every major political candidate in recent history has used, and often exploited, on of the many facets of crime to attempt to convince American voters that they can feel secure and safe with the candidate at the leadership helm, coveted feelings in a tumultuous world. As a result, we have more policemen patrolling the streets, laws such as the death penalty and three strikes your out, proposed increases to defenses spending for both the latest weapons and more armed service men, beefed up airport security measures, and catchy candidate slogans such as tough on crime.
And yet, the one facet of crime that no one is talking about is the one issue that has the potential to destroy the American economy, the American political system, and the lives of the American citizens. As new cops patrol the streets at night and technologys most advanced weapons sit ready to deploy in order to protect our land, some of the worlds most vicious and dangerous criminals invade our homes and our countrys borders each day almost without a trace. Computer crime and terrorism are plaguing our nation, and our leaders continue to march the nation into the criminals hands.
Today, more and more, computer crime has made its way into the headlines, the evening news, and major newspapers. In recent years, we have seen attacks on major websites such as Yahoo, America Online, the FBIs home page, and many others. These attacks, known as hacking, have ranged from defacing web pages to shutting down entire sites, costing thousands and sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars each time (Quinn, 1). In other areas of computer crime, individuals use credit card fraud to buy items online in an environment where they are not checked by anything more than a card number, expiration date, and billing address.
In a one year period, it is estimated that computer crime causes hundreds of millions of dollars in damage (Carter, 3). These crimes and attacks have become so prevalent that a name has been given to the perpetrators: hackers. Hackers, and the crimes that they commit, have become a very serious threat to the well being of society in the United States. Hacking is defined by the CCI Online Computer Dictionary as using ingenuity and creativity to solve computer-programming problems, and to overcome the limitations of a system and expand its capabilities (CCI Computing).
Though by this definition, hacking seems harmless, and maybe even useful, the act is more commonly associated with negative actions and aggressive crimes. The PC Webopedia defines hacking as modifying a program, often in an unauthorized manner, by changing the code itself (PC Webopedia). The term hacker references the latter definition, and refers to the person who invades the affected computers. Perhaps the most threatening aspect of hackers, though, is that anyone with more than a cursory knowledge of computer programming can quickly begin wreaking havoc.
The average person tends to think of hackers as malicious, professional computer criminals who spend all of their time writing destructive computer viruses to break into the most secure and important computer systems to steal information or money (Hayward, 2). However, hackers are more often the guy next door, young teenagers or college students, or men and women that work for technologys leading firms. Even more frightening is the fact that home computers are just as susceptible to becoming the next victims of computer crime as the Pentagons computer systems.
David Dunagen, a resident of Dallas, Texas, knows this threat all too well. Dunagen, a computer security expert, was a victim of computer hacking fraud. A computer criminal stole his identity and credit card number, and then used them to order a notebook computer over the Internet. The Dallas police refused to look into his case, claiming that they did not have the time or the resources to track down the individual (Riggs, 1). Dunagen was left without recourse for the damages of the disconcerting crime (2).
The most concerning groups of hackers are those that are using computer crime as a terrorist tool. As American society grows closer to complete computer and technological dependence, terrorist groups have begun to discover new ways to attack organizations and countries without using physical means. Terrorist groups can bring this countrys economy to a total standstill simply by hacking into the computers that control the major commerce and trading systems. Even our national defense and security systems are not invincible to attacks by hackers.
Worse yet, computer terrorists are virtually untraceable; they can invade American computer systems without setting foot in the hemisphere, while never disclosing their location. In fact with portable computer technology, terrorists can commit their crimes literally on the move. This makes it extremely difficult for organizations like CERT, the FBI, the CIA, and other state and local crime fighters to track down, let alone prosecute, the criminals or terrorists involved. The United States Government seems to be taking the threat seriously; already the FBI is working hard to keep up with technologys top criminals.
The U. S. Department of State is anticipating even greater numbers of attacks on computer systems in the future (Campbell, 1) and the FBI claims that there has already been an increase of over one hundred percent in computer crimes committed in the United States last year (Anderson, 1). This anticipation is well founded: it is a simple fact that as greater numbers of computer systems are developed, there will be more opportunities and areas for terrorist and computer criminals to invade (Parker, 11). The FBI has been developing its technology crime fighting unit for several years now.
Other Federal and State law enforcement agencies, however, have fallen behind. Unfortunately, criminal hackers definitely have the upper hand when it comes to computer crime. Today, this crime is still new enough that federal government lacks sufficient laws to put an end to the reign of technological terror plaguing American Society (Parker, 97). Furthermore, law enforcement agencies lack the manpower necessary to utilize existing laws in their efforts to fight computer crime. In addition to the concerns of non-physical hacking attacks, terrorist groups have found other ways to delay or completely shutdown the flow of information.
Cyber terrorists have not limited their attacks to the digital side of computers; they have realized that a small bomb or fire at a computer facility can do more damage in a shorter amount of time than hacking into whole systems. Terrorist groups have followed through on this approach: as of 1992, they had attacked more than 600 computer facilities using bombs and other physical means to destroy the computers (Campbell, 1). While most of these attacks have occurred over-seas, the threat of an attack happening in the United States is very real.
Many of the largest computer facilities in the United States are virtually unprotected physically; though their computer systems are guarded by the most secure systems know to the world. It would b easy for a terrorist group to conduct bombings on computer facilities and cause extensive damage to computer information systems in the United States, that Campbell claims in his paper A Detailed History of Terrorist and Hostile Intelligence Attacks against Computer Resources That a well directed attack against 100 key computer facilities could bring the American economy to its knees (Campbell, 2).
Computer crime and terrorism has indeed become a grave concern for the United States and the global community. The society of the world is in a serious transition time in which every area of our lives is being affected, and quickly controlled, by computers. Most of these computers remain unprotected, while even those that are secured by top-notch security systems are still penetrable given the skill and desire.
A major attack on these systems could cause society as we know it to completely change: personal financial accounts could be drained of all funds, communication systems could be severely disabled or incapacitated causing a complete communication blackout, and emergency service computer systems could be attacked making it extremely difficult for police and firemen to respond to emergencies, all with the quick execution of a simple program.
The effects of computer crime and terrorism penetrate into almost every single aspect of society. A successful attack on any major computer information system will have a tremendously negative impact on both the United States and the global society as a whole. It is extremely important in the future that everything realistically possible is done to protect the valuable resources that we call computers and the sensitive information that they store.
This countrys leaders need to start to take notice of the negative effects computers could have on our society. Perhaps, instead of scrambling to assume credit for creating the internet which is becoming Americas Achilles heel, our next leader should take the bold step of slowing our technological dependence, a policy that has thus fare been virtually absent in Americas history of progress. But then again, the internet is not the demise of America, people are.