During the last 20 years, cybercrime has become an important topic in the contemporary agenda: some discuss its effect on individual freedoms while others speculate over the way it may transform the modern warfare. The notion of cybercrime means crimes of different kinds and scales carried out with the help of computers and the Internet (Yar & Steinmetz, 2019). Cybercrimes primarily target information: it may be either theft of data or hacking of core systems (Bissel & Ponemon, 2019). Meanwhile, there is also another way cybercriminals choose, which is the destruction of data or alterations in them (Bissel & Ponemon, 2019). This paper aims to demonstrate that cybercrime appears to be the sphere of social life initiated by different actors targeting states, businesses, and individuals with various techniques and enabled by the Internet’s age.
The Cost of Cybercrimes
To begin with, while suffering from cybercrime as any other actors, individuals do not seem to receive the same attention to the cost of attacks. The reason lies in the fact that their scale is usually incomparable to the ones targeting businesses or states. Nevertheless, some assessments are providing the opportunity to understand the numbers. For example, in 2018, the British National Fraud Authority estimated that individuals overall lost about 9.1 billion pounds, which is about 11.6 billion dollars (Home Office Science Advisory Council, 2018). Meanwhile, the authors themselves point out that it is still significantly challenging to assess the exact cost of such crimes (Home Office Science Advisory Council, 2018). Moreover, there is another aspect: the non-financial losses caused by cybercrimes like psychological damage or reputation – which cannot be measured in dollars. Hence, individuals as targets of cyberattacks lack research due to objective reasons explained above.
As for businesses, with the increase of their role in the modern world, their vulnerability to cyberattacks also grew. According to the FBI, the U.S. business lost 3.5 billion dollars in 2019 due to cybercrimes. From 2013 to 2018, the security branches rocketed by 67% (Bissel & Ponemon, 2019). However, even a year gap can be rather significant for some realms. For instance, in 2017 – 2018, life sciences, travel, and automotive spheres saw the growth of the cyberattacks cost by 86%, 77%, and 47%, respectively (Bissel & Ponemon, 2019). The absolute numbers reach 18.4 million dollars in banking. Meanwhile, some areas like health stay out of the cybercriminals’ focus: according to Bissel and Ponemon’s report (2019), this field’s costs even dropped between 2017 and 2018. It is fair to believe that as long as a significant part of cybercriminals focuses on financial opportunities, the business will stay one of the major cyberattacks’ primary targets.
Finally, states find themselves on the top of the costs pyramid as they tend to count not only state-budget related cybercrimes but also damage to their economy. Speaking of the United States, the White House estimated its losses in 2016 by 109 billion dollars (The Council of Economic Advisers, 2018). Moreover, the United Kingdom claims to lose about 27 billion pounds (34.3 billion dollars) a year (Home Office Science Advisory Council, 2018). It is also vital to emphasize that governments are not always attacked for financial reasons, and their damage is more of political nature. However, cybercrime’s economic side has expanded to all parts of the world, even to the least developed areas. For instance, in 2017, Kenya lost about 210 million dollars from its budget, while the Rwandan central bank claims to experience 1000 attacks a day on average (The Economist, 2018). Overall, while the financial damage significantly varies for different regions, states seem to be the central targets of cybercrime.
Examples of Significant Cybercrimes
First of all, one should primarily focus on individuals suffering from such activity. According to the top data protection firm, Kaspersky Laboratory (2020), methods applied to individuals typically include email or identity fraud and card payment data theft. Probably, one of the most famous incidents occurred in May 2017: the WannaCry ransomware attack affected 230,000 computers running Microsoft Office in 150 countries (Kaspersky, 2020). As a result, the WannaCry incident is estimated to have caused the financial damage of 4 billion dollars (Kaspersky, 2020). The technique applied in that case by the anonymous actors is known as a malware attack: a computer is metaphorically infected with a virus that steals or damages date contained on it (Kaspersky, 2020). Thus, malware attacks are among the most destructive means of cybercrime.
Nevertheless, it was already mentioned above that cyberattacks do not have an economic dimension exclusively: they may also harm one’s reputation or mental health. Yar and Steinmetz (2019) consider online hate speech, cyberstalking, and promoting pedophilia on the Internet as kinds of cybercrime. As for the authority losses, the case of Hilary Clinton’s email hacking during the presidential campaign in 2016 may be understood as a bright example. The Russian government is blamed for the attack; however, the actor stays unknown, as there is no proof pointing to any interested party. Hence, celebrities are incredibly vulnerable to cybercrimes as their social success relies on their reputation.
Secondly, moving on to businesses, the case chosen deals with one of the most influential spheres of the modern world’s life: the oil and gas industry. In 2012, a company Saudi Aramco’s employee opened a phishing email and infected his computer. As a result, in a few hours, 35 000 company’s computers were wiped: the company could not execute any financial operations to say nothing about dealing with its partners (Offshore Technology, 2016). The company controlling 10% of the world’s oil collapsed for five months. It is logical to assume that financial losses were severe, while the attackers stayed unknown. Moreover, the company had to invest in building a more robust cybersecurity system. Thus, the case of Saudi Aramco clearly demonstrates how a simple cyber-technique can significantly affect not only the company’s interests but also the essential world markets.
Finally, as for the counter-state attacks, they seem to raise the most concern in the international community. On the one hand, there is hacktivism that means the usage of cybercrime for one’s political or ideological goals promotion (Yar & Steinmetz, 2019). For instance, after the death of Micheal Brown in Missouri in 2014, hacktivists from the Anonymous group “began its assault, using denial of service tactics and doxing high-level state, local and law enforcement officials” (PBS, 2017, p. 22). On the other hand, the phenomenon is sometimes mistaken for cyberterrorism: the application of the Internet for violence, terror, or destruction in a political context (Yar & Steinmetz, 2019). There are many groups similar to Anonymous that tend to be included in both hacktivist and cyberterrorist camps: WikiLeaks, LulzSec, DkD. Therefore, some misunderstanding is still present in contemporary academia, considering the cybercrime in a political context. However, the lack of conceptualization does not mean that the phenomenon is not so disturbing: on the contrary, it strongly influences different levels of power.
Another peculiar aspect of hacktivism and cyberterrorism against states is the phenomenon of the state-sponsored hacktivist groups. One of the first cases was the attack against Estonia in 2007, presumably initiated by Russia. The idea behind that kind of subterranean foreign policy is that blaming the government for an anonymous group’s actions requires the proof that the decision was made in the government. That part of the investigation is not hard – it is almost impossible. Nevertheless, that is how cybercrime becomes another dimension of contemporary international relations and warfare.
To conclude, cybercrime has become one of the most debatable burning issues of the 21st century, endangering the international community’s day-to-day life on all levels. Its targets vary from individuals losing their data as well as reputation to businesses collapsing because of simple mistakes in the cybersecurity systems and states facing the challenge of cyberterrorists and hacktivists. Cybercriminals have developed – and still do – a reasonable number of techniques, among which phishing and malware attacks seem to be the most widespread. Actors in charge are also present in almost every group at any level: individuals, organized groups like WikiLeaks or Anonymous, and governments. In some aspects of this phenomenon, there are still blank spots in its theorization that should be solved if the society seeks to avoid cases similar to the WannaCry ransomware or Saudi Aramco attack. In other words, it is fair to claim that cybercrime is a new dimension of social life of full value that transforms interpersonal, intergroup, and international interactions.
Bissel, K., & Ponemon, L. (2019). The cost of cybercrime. Ninth annual cost of cybercrime study. Ponemon Institute.
Home Office Science Advisory Council. (2018). Understanding the costs of cyber crime. UK Government. Web.
Kaspersky. (2020). Tips on how to protect yourself against cybercrime. Web.
Offshore Technology. (2016). Fighting cyber crime in the offshore oil and gas industry. Web.
PBS. (2017). Hacktivists launch more cyberattacks against local, state governments. Web.
The Council of Economic Advisers. (2018). The cost of malicious cyber activity to the U.S. economy. White House. Web.
The Economist. (2018). The cost of cyber-crime. Web.
Yar, M., & Steinmetz, K. (2019). Cybercrime and society. SAGE Publications.