Chapter 3

The Criminology of Computer Crime
Positive school was based on the belief that crime
was the result of identifiable traits and social
 Crime producing traits and factors could then be
Isolated and
Treatment could then be administered to eliminate
to control the trait or factor
 An
individual commits a crime because
that person makes a rational choice to do
so by weighing the risks and benefits of
committing the act.
 Choice
theory became popular among in
the late 70s for three reasons:
• The positive school began to be questioned.
• The reported crime rate in the 60s and 70s
increased significantly and this was considered
evidence to some that what was being done was
not working
• The practice of rehabilitation came under attack
 Judicial
policy changed focus, on the
offense and away from the offender
• Choice theory provided that since the offender has
made a rational choice to commit the offense, the
focus should be on the offense committed, not the
 Policies
like mandatory sentencing and
“three strikes you’re out” became popular
based this rationale.
 The effort was to have offenders fear the
punishment and thus be deterred from
committing the act
 Cohen
and Felson postulated that there is
always a steady supply of offenders who
are motivated to commit crime and thus
changes in crime rates are due to:
• changes in the availability of targets and
• the absence of capable guardians and
• elements of rational choice.
 According
to Cohen and Felson, crime
occurs when there is a convergence in
time and space of three factors:
• A motivated offender (hacker)
• A suitable target (vulnerable computer system)
• The absence of a capable guardian (inadequate
software protection)
 Deterrence
theory flows directly from
choice theory.
• If we make the consequence unpleasant enough
the offender will not commit the act.
 Deterrence
is either
• General deterrence or
• Specific deterrence
• Seeks to discourage would-be offenders from
committing criminal acts
• Would-be offenders choose not to commit a
certain act because they fear the sanction that
may be imposed
• Sometimes offenders are made an example of in
order to keep others from committing the same
• Designed to impose a sanction on a convicted
offender in order to prevent them from
continuing to commit criminal acts in the future.
• The sanction should be so distasteful to the
offender that they do not want to commit any
more wrongful acts.
 There
are several assumptions that are key
to the deterrence theory:
• Individuals are rational actors
• Offenders must be aware of the penalty for
particular crimes
• They must view the risks as unpleasant
• In order for deterrence to be effective it is assumed
that the sanction is swift, certain, and severe
 There
is minimal evidence to support the
argument that the threat of arrest and
punishment deters criminals
 Cognitive
development theory assumes that
individuals develop in a sequential manner.
 Kohlberg argued that everyone experiences
six stages of moral development:
• Punishment and obedience orientation state
• Hedonistic orientation stage
• Interpersonal concordance stage
• Law and order orientation stage
• Social contract, legalistic orientation stage
• Orientation to universal ethical principles stage
 The
first two stages (Punishment and
obedience orientation state and the Hedonistic
orientation stage) are usually completed by
age 7.
 Stages 3 and 4 (Interpersonal concordance
stage and Law and order orientation stage) are
passed through and completed from
preadolescence through adolescence
 The last stages begin in early adulthood
 Psychopath
and Sociopath are technical
terms referred to antisocial personality
 Characteristics:
• Repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for
Irritability and aggressiveness
Reckless disregard for safety of self or others
Consistent irresponsibility
Lack of remorse
 Most
people cannot understand why
pedophiles commit the crimes they do.
• Pedophiles develop a sexual interest over a long
period of time.
• Pedophiles are often exposed to some type of
sexual abuse or trauma during their own
• Pedophiles often suffer abuse or other related
problems during their own sexual development.
 Social
structure theories focused on why
lower class people are more likely to
commit crime than middle and upper
class people.
 Modifications and expansions of the
original theories have moved away from
an economic distinction and study all
social classes.
 Crime
is the result of lack of opportunity,
in particular economic opportunity.
• U.S. society instills in citizens a desire for
financial success but does not provide all people
equal opportunity to achieve that success.
• Those who do not have an equal opportunity are
strained and thus more likely to be criminal.
 The
cultural goal of American society is
economic success.
 The primary goal of US citizens is
material wealth.
 Members of the lower class have less
access to education and good jobs than
members of the middle and upper class.
 Strain theory is thus sometimes referred
to as blocked opportunity theory.
 People
have five modes of adaptation:
• 1. Conformity
 Accepts the cultural goal of economic success and
accepts the institutionalized means to obtain it
 Highly unlikely to commit criminal acts.
• 2. Ritualism
 Rejects the cultural goal of economic success but
accepts the institutionalized means to obtain the
cultural goal.
 They have lowered their aspiration for financial
success but still abide by the means to obtain it
 It is unlikely that a ritualist will commit criminal acts.
 Five modes of adaptation continued:
• 3. Innovation
 Accepts the goal of economic success but rejects the
institutionalized means to obtain the goal.
 The person innovates new means to obtain economic
success besides education and employment.
 More likely to commit criminal acts
• 4. Retreatism
 Rejects both the cultural goal of economic success
and institutionalized means to obtain the goal.
 These people frequently escape into drug addiction
and may commit crimes to support their drug use but
they do not aspire to financial success.
 Five
modes of adaptation continued:
• 5. Rebellion
 Rejects both the cultural goal and means but
substitutes new goals and means to obtain them
 Likely to lead to crime and can be represented by
some gangs, militias, cults, and countercultures.
 Criminality is likely to occur
 People
who already enjoy a certain
degree of monetary success may engage
in instrumental crimes such as money
laundering, espionage, or fraud simply
because they perceive goal blockage in
their attempt to secure ever-increasing
 Agnew’s
theory does not focus on
economic success as the prominent goal
in U.S. society.
 Agnew argues the crime is due to
negative affective states.
 Negative affective states include anger,
frustration, disappointment, depression,
and fear, which are obviously
experienced by all classes.
 Negative
affective states are caused by
several different sources of strain:
• Strain can be caused by the failure to achieve
positively valued goals.
• Strain can be caused by the disjunction between
expectations and achievements.
• Strain can be caused by the removal of positively
valued stimuli from the person.
 Loss of a boyfriend or girlfriend, death of a relative, loss of
a job, or divorce of parents.
• Strain may be due to the presentation of negative
 Family conflict, school failure, child abuse, and stressful life
 The
main tenet of subculture theory is
that criminals, including computer
criminals, hold values, norms, and beliefs
that are in opposition to those held in the
dominant culture.
 These people behave in a manner that is
consistent with their values, norms, and
beliefs, which many times will bring
them in conflict with the law.
 The
goal of lower class youth is middle
class membership.
 Lower class youth face developmental
handicaps which place them at a
disadvantage in being able to obtain
their goal.
 These include lack of educational
preparation and inability to delay
 Since
the lower class has different norms
and values than the middle class, lower
class families are incapable of teaching
their children the proper socialization
techniques necessary for middle class
 They socialize their children to be
members of the lower class
 Since
these youth have been socialized to
be part of the lower class, they frequently
have difficulty in school.
 If lower class youth fail at school they will
not be able to obtain their goal of middle
class status and membership.
 These youth form delinquent subcultures
and gangs.
 In these gangs, youth develop their own
norms, values, and beliefs .
 There
were two goals that lower class
youth pursue:
• Economic success
• Middle class membership
 There
is both a legitimate and an
illegitimate opportunity structure.
 The
legitimate opportunity structure
involves education, hard work, and a
good occupation; not everyone has
access to this structure to obtain
economic success.
 The illegitimate opportunity structure
includes stable criminal enterprises in
neighborhoods in which criminal
mentors exist to assist youth in becoming
successful criminals
subculture is a group response to some
conflict with the dominant culture
 Conflicts can arise from blocked
ambitions, general lack of guidance, or
the need to choose new goals in the face
of despair
 Crime becomes an alternative to
achieving the “needs” dictated by
 Upper
class members tend to adapt by
engaging in white-collar crime.
 Rebellion is the other adaptation. Rebellion
simply describes frustrated people deciding
to ignore society’s goals
• The jazz subculture does not deny that marijuana is
illegal; rather, they rely on a common justification that
marijuana relaxes them and improves their music
 Many
hackers attempt to convince authorities
of the rightness of their actions. Confessions
are common, but usually take the form of
 Social
process theories focus on the
relationship between socialization and
 Social process theories analyze the
impact of certain factors such as peer
group relationships, family relationships,
and failure in school on crime
 People
commit crime because they learn
the attitudes, skills, and rationalizations
necessary to commit these acts
 Learning usually takes place in
interaction with parents and peers
 The
first learning theory to be presented
is Sutherland’s differential association
 He argued that criminal behavior is a
function of learning, not the inability to
obtain economic success
 He
presented nine formal propositions which
demonstrate that social interaction and
learning leads to criminal activity:
• Criminal behavior is learned
• Criminal behavior is learned in interaction with other
people in a process of communication
• The principal part of the learning of criminal behavior
occurs with intimate personal groups
• When criminal behavior is learned, the learning
includes (1) techniques of committing the crime, which
are sometimes very complicated, sometimes very
simple; and (2) the specific directions of motives, drives,
rationalizations, and attitudes
 Nine
formal propositions continued:
• The specific direction of motives and drives is
learned from definitions of the legal codes as
favorable or unfavorable
• A person becomes criminal because of an excess of
definitions favorable to violation of the law over
definitions unfavorable to violation of the law
• Differential associations may vary in frequency,
duration, priority, and intensity
 Nine
formal propositions continued:
• The process of learning criminal behavior by
association with criminal and anticriminal
patterns involves all of the mechanisms that are
involved in any other learning
• While criminal behavior is an expression of
general needs and values, it is not explained by
those, since noncriminal behavior is an
expression of the same needs and values
 The
second learning theory to be
presented is Akers’ differential
reinforcement theory
 Akers integrated differential association
and operant conditioning
 People receive positive and negative
reinforcements for their behavior
 A person’s behavior is controlled by the
rewards and punishments they receive
for their behavior
 They
argued that the process of
becoming a criminal is a learning
 Most criminals hold conventional values,
norms, and beliefs, but must learn to
neutralize the values before committing
 These same criminals hold values and
beliefs which state that criminal behavior
is wrong
 There
are five techniques of neutralization:
• Denial of responsibility
• Denial of injury
• Denial of victim
• Condemnation of the condemners
• Appeal to higher loyalties
 “Why
don’t people commit crime?”
 Social control theory assumes that
people will violate the law
 The answer lies in the strength of a
persons ties to conventional people and
 The
theory identifies four motivating and
restraining forces for crime
• Inner pushes and pulls lead an individual toward
committing crime
• Inner containments inhibit criminal behavior
• Reckless identified outer pressures and pulls which
lead to criminal behavior
• Outer containments inhibit criminal behavior and
include forces that provide discipline and
supervision including parents, police, schools, and
the criminal justice system
 Social
process theories are probably best
when used to explain the crimes
committed by virus writers and those
who propagate and spread viruses
 The first empirical observation to take
into account when examining the
phenomenon of why people engage in
virus writing is that there is no common
profile of a “typical” virus writer
virus writer could be a teen or a 35year old computer programmer
 Can come from many walks of life and
are typically wealthy enough to afford the
computer machinery necessary
 Not all virus writers are in it for the
money or the fame
 Can be for money, fame, attention,
competition, and simply for a perverse
sense of fun
 Terrorism
always has a political agenda
 The purpose of achievement is a specific
set of political objectives
 Short-term effects of terrorism involve an
immediate psychological effect on
 The economic impact of the September
11th attack on the World Trade Center
Building (2001) was first estimated at a
real cost of just over $10 billion
 Secondary
costs are estimated to exceed $2
 Karl Marx (1887) argued that political change
could not be achieved without conflict
 This group, the vanguard, represented the
front lines of violent activity
 It was the express purpose of the vanguard to
violently confront private property owners
and wealthy elites with the opposites
elements that maintained their ruling status
 Franz
Fanon argued that no government
would willingly give up power and wealth;
therefore, this power and wealth had to be
taken violently
 Governments under attack must respond with
stricter measures against the general public
(the masses).
 Since there is no clearly identifiable enemy,
governments must resort to more harsh and
brutal treatment of the indigenous population
in order to ferret out the hardcore vanguard
 First, it
can be argued that some
computer criminals commit their
offenses due to rational choice and a lack
of fear of apprehension
 Second, it can be argued that restricted
moral development and the presentation
of a personality disorder may lead a
person to commit digital crime
 Third, strain
and subculture theories can
be applied to digital crime
 Fourth, learning and social control
theories can explain some types of
digital crime as well
 Fifth, political theory can be used to
explain acts of terrorism

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