The Guise of Cyber Theft - Cheating Week on BTR


Photo by Si1very.

As technology grows so do opportunities for exploitation and theft. Products and services become streamlined, and the methods and means of thieves become equally efficient. Just as the introduction of the photocopier in the 1950’s and the handheld camcorder of the 1980’s increased opportunities for theft of original materials, so has the computer allowed for rampant acts of criminality in our day. Though similarities exist to previous new technologies, the current problem of cheating, theft, and sabotage via the Internet is a much larger one due to the ubiquitous nature of the World Wide Web- a harsh reminder that as quickly and as all-encompassing as the legitimate world does it crime follows suit.

The criminal art of ‘hacking’ infiltrates huge multi- billion dollar corporations, compromising the security and therefore the well-being of these industries. The practice also threatens national security. A recent PBS special revealed that the Pentagon receives over six million hacking and security threats a day. Defending against cyber- attacks is an industry in its infancy.  Programmers have not yet engineered a computer fit to repel all possible threats. Whatever laws and regulation that are currently in place regarding internet practices has yet to keep up with the technological prowess of individual and group hackers around the world. Why? Sheer numbers.  That, coupled with a rapidity of technology which has grown at such a fast rate that governments do not yet know how to deal with the concurrent problems that arise with usage by billions of people, malicious or otherwise, across the globe. That is why many corporations and even the military have turned to hackers themselves to help them identify and eliminate potential loopholes in their cyber programs.  If learning how to cheat can lead to a profitable job with the government then that lessens the idea of the action as being immoral. In this light, the Internet is not just allowing the existence of, but also creating cheaters.

Illegal pirating of music and film via the Internet has cost the recording industry millions of dollars in profits. According to a study conducted by the Institute for Policy Innovation the ANNUAL harm associated with Internet piracy amounts to $12.5 billion dollars in losses to the U.S. economy as well as more than 70,000 lost jobs and $2 billion in lost wages to American workers. For many people illegally downloading music off the Internet has become second-nature. In 1999, when Napster came to life it changed the way Americans thought of piracy and copyrights forever. New terms such as peer-to-peer (P2P) and file-sharing were introduced into our language in order to help us describe and talk about what was going on. Until Napster, copying a CD meant getting possession of the original media and accumulating the software and hardware that would permit copying of the original. The original material had to be in ones hands, and a loss of quality was expected. Did the music industry sow the seeds of its own destruction when it dove into the digital arena so strongly, in effect creating billions of anonymous would-be criminals and giving them ready-made access to their merchandise?

Identity theft, one of the fastest growing types of fraud in the United States, has been helped along immensely by the expansion of the Internet. According to the Federal Trade Commission, one in eight Americans in the last five years have been affected by Internet identity theft. The Internet altered the space-time relationship that once existed for such theft.  Where it used to be that someone had to sidle up next to you and grab your wallet, now World Wide Web can potentially open up an individual’s personal information to adept thieves sitting in front of their computers halfway around the world.

Surveying the high statistics that exist regarding acts of thievery on the Internet paints a disturbing picture of online society. Well… is there an online society? In the worlds of Facebook and social media this is certainly true. But perhaps the problem is that for many the computer at large is not yet considered a societal setting this, even though billions of people world wide operate within its boundless digital arenas daily. After all, a huge segment of humanity uses the computer to work, to play, to educate, and to communicate- all the ingredients are present to consider the Internet a unique kind of society- yet many people don’t. Something surreptitious occurs when one switches on their modem that seemingly alleviates oneself from any sense of ethical obligation to others.

Even taking in to consideration the portion of society who might participate in criminal acts regardless of computer technologies the numbers for Internet fraud are still inordinately high. Why is this? Several attributing factors that contribute to criminality seem to be at play here, including; anonymity, very low chance of getting caught, ease, ever-present opportunity, and a sense of victimless crime. Obviously, the extremely high number of people surfing the web daily makes it substantially harder to locate and prosecute criminals, and the act itself of simply clicking on download icons in order to effectively steal music couldn’t be an easier process. This coupled with the fact that the opportunity to take advantage of free merchandise is literally two feet away from you sitting on a desk in your bedroom. No tool of theft could be more ever-ready than the computer. This constant temptation to pluck the fruit off the vine shows up in piracy statistics big-time.

Another problem is the essence of the Internet. To many people it is a massive, formless, complex animal with vague origins and even vaguer consequences.  If it doesn’t have a face then it must not feel pain. Or so we might delude ourselves… The thought process goes like this:  it is much easier to steal from an amorphous, inhuman entity than it is from a struggling musician, especially when “all your friends are doin’ it.” Besides, stealing a couple of songs here and there is just a drop in the bucket. Isn’t it ?

Consider the act of hacking, or pirating music- would so many people be willing to carry out such actions if they had to deal directly, in a tactile manner, with corporations like these? Or would they feel the weight of their actions and the consequences more readily if they had to commit their crimes in the “real world”? The problem is that- the digital world is slowly becoming the real world.

The idea that man would break all sorts of laws if seemingly hid in a cloak of invisibility is not a new one. In Ancient Greece, Plato questioned the truth of morality when he wrote of the “Ring of Gyges” in his famous text The Republic. Legend has it that a shepherd named Gyges made himself invisible by wearing the magical ring and proceeded to murder his king and steal his queen. To Plato this illustrated that morality was merely a social construct and had no real power over man’s conscience when he was not held literally accountable to it. The Internet seems to have created a giant cloak of such invisibility, and led many people to act without normally present notions of morality. Perhaps in the advent of the Internet, this ancient legend has been brought to life in numbers we never feared possible.