Cybercrime is a type of crime involving a computer or a computer network.[1][2][3] The computer may have been used in committing the crime, or it may be the target.[4] Cybercrime may harm someone’s security or finances.[5][6]

Internationally, both state and non-state actors engage in cybercrimes, including espionage, financial theft, and other cross-border crimes. Cybercrimes crossing international borders and involving the actions of at least one nation-state are sometimes referred to as cyberwarfare. Warren Buffett has said that cybercrime is the “number one problem with mankind”[7] and that it “poses real risks to humanity”.[8]

A 2014 report sponsored by McAfee estimated that cybercrime had resulted in $445 billion USD in annual damage to the global economy.[9] Approximately $1.5 billion was lost in 2012 to online credit and debit card fraud in the US.[10] In 2018, a study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), in partnership with McAfee, concluded that nearly 1 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP), close to $600 billion, is lost to cybercrime each year.[11] The World Economic Forum 2020 Global Risk Report confirmed that organized cybercrime groups are joining forces to commit criminal activities online, while estimating the likelihood of their detection and prosecution to be less than 1 percent in the US.[12] There are also many privacy concerns surrounding cybercrime when confidential information is intercepted or disclosed, legally or otherwise.

Computer crime encompasses a broad range of activities, including computer fraud, financial crimes, scams, cybersex trafficking, and ad-fraud.[13][14]

Computer fraud
Main article: Computer fraud
Computer fraud is the act of using a computer to take or alter electronic data, or to gain unlawful use of a computer or system.[15] Computer fraud that involves the use of the internet is also called internet fraud. The legal definition of computer fraud varies by jurisdiction, but typically involves accessing a computer without permission or authorization.

Forms of computer fraud include hacking into computers to alter information, distributing malicious code such as computer worms or viruses, installing malware or spyware to steal data, phishing, and advance-fee scams.[16]

Other forms of fraud may be committed using computer systems, including bank fraud, carding, identity theft, extortion, and theft of classified information. These types of crimes often result in the loss of personal or financial information.

Main article: Cyberterrorism
The term cyberterrorism refers to acts of terrorism committed through the use of cyberspace or computer resources.[17] Acts of disruption of computer networks and personal computers through viruses, worms, phishing, malicious software, hardware, or programming scripts can all be forms of cyberterrorism.[18]

Government officials and information technology (IT) security specialists have documented a significant increase in network problems and server scams since early 2001. In the United States there is an increasing concern from agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).[citation needed]

Cyberextortion occurs when a website, e-mail server, or computer system is subjected to or threatened with attacks by malicious hackers, often through denial-of-service attacks. Cyberextortionists demand money in return for promising to stop the attacks and provide “protection”. According to the FBI, cyberextortionists are increasingly attacking corporate websites and networks, crippling their ability to operate, and demanding payments to restore their service. More than 20 cases are reported each month to the FBI, and many go unreported in order to keep the victim’s name out of the public domain. Perpetrators often use a distributed denial-of-service attack.[19] However, other cyberextortion techniques exist, such as doxing and bug poaching. An example of cyberextortion was the Sony Hack of 2014.[20]

Main article: Ransomware
Ransomware is a type of malware used in cyberextortion to restrict access to files, sometimes threatening permanent data erasure unless a ransom is paid. Ransomware is a global issue, with more than 300 million attacks worldwide in 2021. According to the 2022 Unit 42 Ransomware Threat Report, in 2021 the average ransom demand in cases handled by Norton climbed 144 percent to $2.2 million, and there was an 85 percent increase in the number of victims who had their personal information shown on dark web information dumps.[21] A loss of nearly $400 million in 2021 and 2022 is just one of the statistics showing the impact of ransomware attacks on everyday people.[22]

Cybersex trafficking
Main article: Cybersex trafficking
Cybersex trafficking is the transportation of victims for such purposes as coerced prostitution or the live streaming of coerced sexual acts or rape on webcam.[23][24][25][26] Victims are abducted, threatened, or deceived and transferred to “cybersex dens”.[27][28][29] The dens can be in any location where the cybersex traffickers have a computer, tablet, or phone with an internet connection.[25] Perpetrators use social media networks, video conferences, dating pages, online chat rooms, apps, dark web sites,[30] and other platforms.[31] They use online payment systems[30][32][33] and cryptocurrencies to hide their identities.[34] Millions of reports of cybersex incidents are sent to authorities annually.[35] New legislation and police procedures are needed to combat this type of cybercrime.[36]

There are an estimated 6.3 million victims of cybersex trafficking, according to a recent report by the International Labour Organization.[37] This number includes about 1.7 million child victims. An example of cybersex trafficking is the 2018–2020 Nth room case in South Korea.[38]

Main article: Cyberwarfare
According to the U.S. Department of Defense, cyberspace has emerged as an arena for national-security threats through several recent events of geostrategic importance, including the attack on Estonia’s infrastructure in 2007, allegedly by Russian hackers. In August 2008, Russia again allegedly conducted cyberattacks against Georgia. Fearing that such attacks may become a normal part of future warfare among nation-states, military commanders see a need to develop cyberspace operations.[39]

Computers as a tool
Main articles: Internet fraud, Spamming, Phishing, and Carding (fraud)
When an individual is the target of cybercrime, the computer is often the tool rather than the target. These crimes, which typically exploit human weaknesses, usually do not require much technical expertise. These are the types of crimes which have existed for centuries in the offline world. Criminals have simply been given a tool that increases their pool of potential victims and makes them all the harder to trace and apprehend.[40]

Crimes that use computer networks or devices to advance other ends include:

Fraud and identity theft (although this increasingly uses malware, hacking or phishing, making it an example of “computer as target” as well as “computer as tool”)
Information warfare
Phishing scams
Propagation of illegal obscene or offensive content, including harassment and threats
The unsolicited sending of bulk email for commercial purposes (spam) is unlawful in some jurisdictions.

Phishing is mostly propagated via email. Phishing emails may contain links to other websites that are affected by malware.[41] Or they may contain links to fake online banking or other websites used to steal private account information.

Obscene or offensive content
The content of websites and other electronic communications may be distasteful, obscene, or offensive for a variety of reasons. In some instances, it may be illegal. What content is unlawful varies greatly between countries, and even within nations. It is a sensitive area in which the courts can become involved in arbitrating between groups with strong beliefs.

One area of internet pornography that has been the target of the strongest efforts at curtailment is child pornography, which is illegal in most jurisdictions in the world.[citation needed]

See also: Ad fraud and Click fraud
Ad-frauds are particularly popular among cybercriminals, as such frauds are lucrative and unlikely to be prosecuted.[42] Jean-Loup Richet, a professor at the Sorbonne Business School, classified the large variety of ad-frauds committed by cybercriminals into three categories: identity fraud, attribution fraud, and ad-fraud services.[14]

Identity fraud aims to impersonate real users and inflate audience numbers. The techniques used for identity fraud include traffic from bots (coming from a hosting company, a data center, or compromised devices); cookie stuffing; falsification of user characteristics, such as location and browser type; fake social traffic (misleading users on social networks into visiting the advertised website); and fake social media accounts that make a bot appear legitimate.

Attribution fraud impersonates the activities of real users, such as clicks and conversations. Many ad-fraud techniques belong to this category: the use of hijacked and malware-infected devices as part of a botnet; click farms (companies where low-wage employees are paid to click or engage in conversations); incentivized browsing; video placement abuse (delivered in display banner slots); hidden ads (which will never be viewed by real users); domain spoofing (ads served on a fake website); and clickjacking, in which the user is forced to click on an ad.

Ad-fraud services include all online infrastructure and hosting services that might be needed to undertake identity or attribution fraud. Services can involve the creation of spam websites (fake networks of websites that provide artificial backlinks); link building services; hosting services; or fake and scam pages impersonating a famous brand.

Online harassment
See also: Cyberbullying, Online predator, Cyberstalking, Cyber Racism, and Internet troll
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Whereas content may be offensive in a non-specific way, harassment directs obscenities and derogatory comments at specific individuals, often focusing on gender, race, religion, nationality, or sexual orientation.

Committing a crime using a computer can lead to an enhanced sentence. For example, in the case of United States v. Neil Scott Kramer, the defendant was given an enhanced sentence according to the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual §2G1.3(b)(3) for his use of a cell phone to “persuade, induce, entice, coerce, or facilitate the travel of, the minor to engage in prohibited sexual conduct.” Kramer appealed the sentence on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence to convict him under this statute because his charge included persuading through a computer device and his cellular phone technically is not a computer. Although Kramer tried to argue this point, the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual states that the term “computer” means “an electronic, magnetic, optical, electrochemical, or other high-speed data processing device performing logical, arithmetic, or storage functions, and includes any data storage facility or communications facility directly related to or operating in conjunction with such device.”

In the United States, at least 41 states have passed laws and regulations that regard extreme online harassment as a criminal act. These acts can also be prosecuted on the federal level, because of US Code 18 Section 2261A, which states that using computers to threaten or harass can lead to a sentence of up to 20 years.[43]

Several countries besides the US have also created laws to combat online harassment. In China, a country with over 20 percent of the world’s internet users, in response to the Human Flesh Search Engine bullying incident, the Legislative Affairs Office of the State Council passed a strict law against cyberbullying.[44][45] The United Kingdom passed the Malicious Communications Act, which states that sending messages or letters electronically that the government deems “indecent or grossly offensive” and/or language intended to cause “distress and anxiety” can lead to a prison sentence of six months and a potentially large fine.[46][47] Australia, while not directly addressing the issue of harassment, includes most forms of online harassment under the Criminal Code Act of 1995. Using telecommunication to send threats, harass, or cause offense is a direct violation of this act.[48]

Although freedom of speech is protected by law in most democratic societies, it does not include all types of speech. Spoken or written threats can be criminalized because they harm or intimidate. This applies to online or network-related threats.

Cyberbullying has increased drastically with the growing popularity of online social networking. As of January 2020, 44 percent of adult internet users in the United States had “personally experienced online harassment”.[49] Online harassment of children often has negative and even life-threatening effects. According to a 2021 survey, 41 percent of children develop social anxiety, 37 percent develop depression, and 26 percent have suicidal thoughts.[50]

The United Arab Emirates was found to have purchased the NSO Group’s mobile spyware Pegasus for mass surveillance and a campaign of harassment of prominent activists and journalists, including Ahmed Mansoor, Princess Latifa, Princess Haya, and others. Ghada Oueiss was one of the many high-profile female journalists and activists who were targeted. She filed a lawsuit against UAE ruler Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan along with other defendants, accusing them of sharing her photos online.[51]

Drug trafficking
Darknet markets are used to buy and sell recreational drugs online. Some drug traffickers use encrypted messaging tools to communicate with drug mules or potential customers. The dark web site Silk Road, which started operations in 2011, was the first major online marketplace for drugs. It was permanently shut down in 2014 by the FBI and Europol. After Silk Road 2.0 went down, Silk Road 3 Reloaded emerged. However, it was just an older marketplace named Diabolus Market that used the Silk Road name in order to get more exposure from the Silk Road brand’s earlier success.[52]

Darknet markets have had a rise in traffic in recent years for many reasons, such as the anonymous purchases and often a system of reviews by other buyers.[53] There are many ways in which darknet markets can financially drain individuals. Vendors and customers alike go to great lengths to keep their identities a secret while online. Commonly used tools for hiding their online presence include virtual private networks (VPNs), Tails, and the Tor Browser. Darknet markets entice customers by making them feel comfortable. Although people can easily gain access to a Tor browser, actually gaining access to an illicit market is not as simple as typing it in on a search engine, as one would with Google. Darknet markets have special links that change frequently, ending in .onion as opposed to the typical .com, .net, and .org domain extensions. To add to privacy, the most prevalent currency on these markets is Bitcoin, which allows transactions to be anonymous.[54]

A problem that marketplace users sometimes face is exit scamming.[55] That is, a vendor with a high rating acts as if they are selling on the market and have users pay for products they never receive.[56] The vendor then closes their account after receiving money from multiple buyers and never sending what was paid for. The vendors, all of whom are involved in illegal activities, have no reason not to engage in exit scamming when they no longer want to be a vendor. In 2019, an entire market known as Wall Street Market allegedly exit scammed, stealing $30 million dollars in bitcoin.[57]

The FBI has cracked down on these markets. In July 2017, the FBI seized one of the biggest markets, commonly called Alphabay, which re-opened in August 2021 under the control of DeSnake, one of the original administrators.[58][59] Investigators pose as buyers and order products from darknet vendors in the hope that the vendors leave a trail the investigators can follow. In one case an investigator posed as a firearms seller, and for six months people purchased from them and provided home addresses.[60] The FBI was able to make over a dozen arrests during this six-month investigation.[60] Another crackdown targeted vendors selling fentanyl and opiates. With thousands of people dying each year due to drug overdose, investigators have made internet drug sales a priority.[61] Many vendors do not realize the extra criminal charges that go along with selling drugs online, such as money laundering and illegal use of the mail.[62] In 2019, a vendor was sentenced to 10 years in prison after selling cocaine and methamphetamine under the name JetSetLife.[63] But despite the large amount of time investigators spend tracking down people, in 2018 only 65 suspects who bought and sold illegal goods on some of the biggest markets were identified.[64] Meanwhile, thousands of transactions take place daily on these markets.