Amna Ejaz Rafi
IN 1969, ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) was created by connecting few computers. In 1972, the codes for exchanging data were created and an internet capable of exchanging packets of digital information was formed. The World Wide Web began in 1989. Later, developments led to the creation of research engine Google and the ICANN-Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers in 1998. The open source encyclopedia, Wikipedia began in 2001. These digital advancements had an impact on research. Students through technological exchange can access the research of other countries. In 1992, there were only a million internet users; within fifteen years that had grown to a billion. In 1993, there were about 50 websites in the world; by the end of the decade, that number had surpassed 5 million, and in 2010, China alone had nearly 400 million users.
The digital advancements have contributed significantly towards globalization and technological exchange. In the current era of Information Technology (IT), one shops on line, works on line, plays on line and hypothetically lives on line, thus, a new way of life “digital life” has emerged. In the digital way of life, other than the benefits, there are certain challenges. There exists a darker side to this global/technological networking. “Our interconnected world presents us, at once, with great promise but also great peril”, (statement by former President Barack Obama at the ‘60-Day Cyber Space Policy Review called for a major new initiative in cyber power, 2009). “The first spam email took place in 1978 when it was sent out over the ARPANET, and the first virus was created in 1983.” Any use of a computer as an instrument to further illegal ends, such as committing fraud, stealing identities and violating privacy is a crime.
The objectives of digital computer crime could be destruction of data, intelligence collection or economic espionage. The damage caused by a cyber-attack could be lethal to the extent that it can shut down electricity in a metropolitan city, resulting in huge financial losses. At the individual level, cyber-crime involves cyber stalking, hacking of email/facebook accounts. Through a malicious software, a person’s bank account could be accessed and online purchases could be made. A malicious software, can also disrupt an organization’s website. The hacker (offender), attacks a computer system (potential target), to access data or to destroy the files.
Cyber-crime against a state, often referred to as “state terrorism” has become widespread. The government websites are the potential targets. Dr. Dorothy Denning, Professor Department of Defence Analysis, Naval Postgraduate School Salinas, California “refers to the convergence of terrorism and cyberspace. It is generally understood to mean unlawful attacks and threats against computers, networks and the information stored therein when done to intimidate or coerce a government or its people in furtherance of political and social objectives”. The ugliest face of the digital world is the spread of terrorism; Internet is being employed by various terrorist organizations’ for propaganda and recruitment purposes. Daesh’s Al-Hayat Media Centre publishes an online magazine, entitled “Dabiq”.
In view of the growth of IT sector, substantial expansion in networking, and social networking sites, an increase in the virtual crimes (compared to past years) is likely. Digital crime and digital terrorism are a challenge for the developed as well as the developing world. The cyber security is not less important than the battlefields of land, air, sea and the space. Cyber-arms race, quite similar to the nuclear arms race, is building up stockpiles of software and malware to attack computer systems of rival states. In order to avoid being a victim of any cyber-crime activity, secure handling of the computers is a must. Computers with pirated or unauthorized software can be easily compromised, and should be avoided. Tackling digital crimes requires technical expertise as well as analytical skills. In this regard, criminological research, intelligence analysis and profiling techniques by partnering with IT security industry should be undertaken. Development of indigenous IT and satellite technologies (as no technology or foreign product is secure) should be encouraged. Digital criminals can also be deterred from offending if the threat of punishment is high. Computer crimes do have potential penalties, but their immediate (or lack of implementation) makes the computer criminal less fearful. According to the Deterrence Theory: “the actual certainty, severity and swiftness of the sanction that serve as a deterrent but the criminal’s perception of the certainty, severity and swiftness of the sanction”.
— The writer is Researcher at Islamabad Policy Research Institute, a think tank based in Islamabad.
Amna Ejaz Rafi