Academic journal article International Journal of Cyber Criminology

Organizations and Cyber Crime: An Analysis of the Nature of Groups Engaged in Cyber Crime

Academic journal article International Journal of Cyber Criminology

Organizations and Cyber Crime: An Analysis of the Nature of Groups Engaged in Cyber Crime

Article excerpt


Discussions of cyber crime, and of organized crime more generally, are plagued by stereotypes. On the one hand, the image of the lone hacker belies the collective nature of much cyber crime. On the other, conventional definitions of organized crime tend to be out of date, having been overtaken by the evolution of the phenomenon itself. This article will explore variations in the organization of cyber crime. It will note that while most organized cyber crime today is the work of skilled technicians who apply their knowledge to criminal activity, there are those "terrestrial" or conventional crime groups who have begun to harness digital technology in furtherance of criminal objectives. This distinction will erode in the fullness of time, as digital technology becomes more pervasive.

Today, it requires an exceptionally closed mind to deny that states are also capable of criminal acts. Throughout recorded history, crimes by state actors have occurred in times of peace, as well as during armed conflicts. Most recently, one notes allegations of drug manufacture and counterfeiting by agents of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (Perl, 2007). States have also engaged periodically in kidnapping and assassination, at home and abroad. Nevertheless, the literature on organized crime has thus far tended to overlook state and state-sponsored crime. Governments have long engaged in criminal activity directly, or have sought the assistance of terrestrial criminals to do their "dirty work." Today, we find that numerous governments (or their proxies) are using Internet technologies to commit crime. Allegations that Russia has executed or encouraged distributed denial of service attacks, and that Chinese authorities are engaged in widespread economic and industrial espionage, have been matched by the disclosures of Edward Snowden that the United States Government has engaged in massive programs of cyber-surveillance. One might also note the offensive cyber operations against Iranian nuclear enrichment facilities (Sanger, 2012). Such activities may not be defined as criminal under the laws of the state that undertakes them, but are usually regarded as crimes by the state that is on the receiving end. And the activities in question are nothing, if not organized.

Following discussions of organized crime and cyber crime respectively, the article will review the work of McGuire (2012) and Chabinsky (2010) on varieties of cyber crime organization, then introduce a number of cases of cyber crime committed by individuals and by organizations. It will conclude by differentiating the objectives of individual and organizational cyber crime offenders, and then will assess the robustness of the McGuire and Chabinsky typologies.

Organized criminal groups in the cyber space

While many types of cyber crime require a high degree of organization and specialization, there is insufficient empirical evidence to ascertain if cyber crime is now dominated by organized crime groups and what form or structure such groups may take (Lusthaus, 2013). Digital technology has empowered individuals as never before. Teenagers acting alone have succeeded in disabling air traffic control systems, shutting down major e-retailers, and manipulating trades on the NASDAQ stock exchange (US Securities and Exchange Commission, 2000). What individuals can do, organizations can also do, and often better. It is apparent that many if not all types of criminal organization are capable of engaging in cyber crime. The Internet and related technologies lend themselves perfectly to coordination across a dispersed area. Thus, an organized crime group may be a highly structured traditional mafia like group that engages delinquent IT professionals. Alternatively, it could be a short-lived project driven by a group that undertakes a specific online crime and/or targets a particular victim or group. Rather than groups, it may involve a wider community that is exclusively based online and dealing in digital property (e. …

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