“Mueller was absolutely right. It is going to dominate my tenure,” said FBI Director James Comey referring the comments of his predecessor, former FBI Director Robert Mueller during a recent roundtable discussion with journalists regarding cybercrime. Director Comey went on to say that “there is a huge amount of it going on at all levels” and he is ready for the challenge.
Cybercrime is borderless, globally impacting millions of people and costing $100 billion each year in the process. It is expected that the cyber security market will reach $120 billion by 2017. As one the biggest and fastest growing threats not only to our national security but worldwide, it is prudent to understand what cybercrime is, what the government is doing to address and prevent such crimes, and what we can do individually to prevent ourselves from falling prey to such attacks.
So how is a cybercrime defined? What constitutes a cyber threat or attack? Cybercrime can be defined as any illegal activity that involves the use of a computer to primarily commit the offense. Merriam-Webster.com defines cybercrime as “criminal activity (such as fraud, identity theft, or distribution of child pornography) committed electronically using a computer especially to illegally access, alter, or manipulate data.” Essentially, the computer is another tool used to commit crime and the internet and computer networks society, corporations, and the government rely upon each day provides a breeding ground for cyberattacks.
Realizing no individual or entity, no matter how big or small, is safe from this ever-growing and evolving threat, you may ask what the United States government is doing in response. Several agencies across the government are responsible for countering such threats to include the FBI and Department of Homeland Security. FBI Director Comey, at last year’s RSA Cyber Security Conference, stated, “we face cyber threats from state-sponsored hackers, hackers for hire, organized cyber syndicates, and, yes, terrorists. They seek our state secrets, our trade secrets, our technology, and our ideas.”
To respond to such threats, the mission of the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, or IC3, is to “provide the public with a reliable and convenient reporting mechanism to submit information to the Federal Bureau of Investigation concerning suspected internet-facilitated criminal activity” while developing effective alliances with industry partners in order to process investigative information for law enforcement and public awareness. Some of these alliances include industry representatives such as online retailers, financial institutions, Internet service providers, and parcel delivery providers. IC3 understands that as technology evolves, the avenues utilized to exploit such technology as it relates to criminal activity does as well. We no longer live in a time where crime was once committed in person. In order to combat this threat, it is critical to understand that the criminal element now hides behind the veil of anonymity that the internet provides whereby potential victims fall prey because of their vulnerability or generosity. The complaint system provided by IC3 focuses on initiatives to include:
- Charitable Contributions Fraud
- Counterfeit Check Fraud
- Identity Theft
- Work-at-home scams
- Investment Fraud
- And various other types of fraud
Personal information has become the driving force pertaining to cybercrime since it is a major commodity being sought out by hackers. This is evident with the onslaught of recent cases here in the U.S. involving JP Morgan, Home Depot, Target, Best Buy, and the most recent this week with the Experian breach of some 15 million people’s data who applied for service with T-Mobile. We can, however, take steps to protect ourselves to a degree in an effort to prevent this from happening to us. With the myriad of ways that cybercrime can be committed, it is a challenging task at best to avoid such attacks, but with some technological savvy and a little common sense, it is certainly possible.
Norton-Symantec, among other anti-virus companies, provides some great tips to the public that will guard and aid us against becoming a target of cybercrime and identity theft. The tips below are some simple precautions that will prevent us from becoming an easy target.
- Protect your computer with firewalls and anti-virus software
- Review your bank and credit card statements often
- Choose strong, complex passwords, keep them safe, and change immediately if companies you do business with experience a data breach
- Ensure your computer is configured properly
- Secure your social security number
- Don’t respond to unsolicited requests for personal information by phone, mail, or online
- Beware of “shoulder surfers” and shield the keypad when inputting passwords
- Review your receipts, compare to account statements and keep an eye out for unauthorized transactions
- Check your credit report at least once a year and review for discrepancies
Cybercrime will continue to pose a threat to each of us, most prominent being identity theft. At risk is our ability to be secure from such predators, both physically and financially. As we move forward in a world that hinges on the necessity of the internet and computer technology to survive in the 21st century, we too must make ourselves digitally empowered by taking the initiative to prevent and fall victim to such crimes.
Richard Rempo, M.S. is adjunct professor of Homeland Security and Criminal Justice for Columbia Southern University.