Computer Crime: Detection and Prevention

By Gilbert, Jerome | Journal of Property Management, March-April 1989 | Go to article overview

Computer Crime: Detection and Prevention


Gilbert, Jerome, Journal of Property Management


Computer Crime: Detection and Prevention

Computer hackers, the white collar criminals of today, are infiltrating the corporate world, tampering with confidential files and creating a real nightmare for many companies. These hackers know data processing and use their technical skills to break into a computer system, either for fun or for profit. Computer crime includes not only outright theft of vital information, but also unauthorized access to files, misuse of data, and manipulation of company funds.

The average cost of computer crime reported between 1985 and 1987 ranged from $76,000 to $92,000. Most computer crimes, however, were estimated at $10,000 or less.

The cost of computer crime is highest among banks, government, and industry. Businesses are twice as likely to experience computer crime if their company employs a large number of people with widespread access.

Computer systems contain the company's most important data: sales, inventory, receivables, payroll, financial statements, and customer lists. These records are valuable, confidential, and dangerously vulnerable. But what methods can be used to prevent computer crime?

Types of computer theft

Before planning computer security, it is important to understand the different types of computer abuses and the security systems available. * Program theft. Computer programs themselves are subject to theft. A great deal of property and information theft is a result of what is known as the "differential association" theory. This theory explains that the perpetrator's acts are reinforced by his or her associates because they differ only slightly from accepted and common business practices. Most feel that it is not a crime to take pens from the office. And so it is with program theft.

Programmers rationalize these "borrowings" and to some extent they become accepted practices within individual firms. Whether a program will be of value to anyone else or not, its continued use is often vital to the owner of the program. * Theft of services. Theft of services, sometimes called theft of computer time, is different from that of property theft, however, because there is no physical loss. For example, several years ago, two programming supervisors employed by a large computer company used the company's computer to program detailed orchestral arrangements. These programs were then sold to bands and music stores. Over three years, the company lost more than $144,000 worth of computer time. This type of theft, which is intangible, is a serious offense. Companies have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars due to such crimes. * Vandalism. Computer crime is not always committed by corporate employees. Often hackers are youngsters in their early teens. Students are learning about computers in elementary school and are becoming skilled technicians, using computers to play mischievous games.

Software sabotage can alter or erase important data. Miniprograms, like "worms" and "viruses," use very little memory and are, therefore, virtually invisible. These programs infect the computer and can alter a system's fundamental operations. Such programs are easy to create and would take a novice approximately 20 hours to write. * Embezzlement by computer. Perhaps the greatest and most widely recognized computer crime is financial fraud and theft. In 1983, the Federal Bureau of Investigation solved 7,811 bank fraud and embezzlement cases involving $282.1 million - almost seven times more money than was stolen that year by bank robbers.

Computer crime is on the rise because there is a lack of risk involved. Many companies fear adverse publicity, lawsuits by persons whose records have been exposed, and charges that their computer systems are not secure. Therefore, only a few companies choose to press charges against computer trespassers.

There are other reasons why companies are reluctant to report computer crime. …

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