Introduction to Cybercrime

Module 1 explores the intricacies of cybercrime, providing a comprehensive overview of its scientific study, classification, and the various issues, trends, and challenges it presents in the modern world. Students will learn the significance of studying cybercrime from a scientific perspective, understanding the methodologies and purposes behind such research. The course will cover a detailed classification of cybercrime, highlighting the different types of cyber offenses and the strategies used to categorize them. It will also explore current issues and trends within the realm of cybercrime, discussing the latest challenges faced by individuals, businesses, and governments. Key concepts related to cybercrime, such as cybersecurity measures, legal frameworks, and ethical considerations, will be thoroughly discussed to provide students with a well-rounded understanding of the subject. The module will examine the economic impact of cybercrime, assessing its costs to both victims and society at large. Furthermore, students will learn about various classification strategies, gaining the ability to distinguish between the different forms of cybercrime effectively. By the end of this module, participants will have a deep understanding of cybercrime, equipped with the knowledge to analyze, classify, and potentially mitigate the effects of cyber activities.

Learning Objectives

After completing this module, you should be able to:

  • discuss why and how cybercrime is scientifically studied,
  • summarize the classification of cybercrime,
  • describe current issues, trends, and problems associated with cybercrime,
  • discuss key concepts related to cybercrime,
  • identify current issues, trends, and problems in cybercrime,
  • examine the cost of cybercrime, and
  • illustrate classification strategies for classifying cybercrime.

Key Terms/Concepts

Carter’s Classification
Computer Abuse
Computer crime
Computer-related Crime
Cyber Victimization
IT-enabled deviance


Computer crime refers to any illegal activity that is facilitated through the use of a computer or networked device. This type of crime may include a wide range of activities, such as hacking, computer fraud, identity theft, cyberstalking, online harassment, and the distribution of malicious software.

Some of the most common types of computer crime include:

  1. Hacking: Unauthorized access to computer systems, networks, or websites.
  2. Computer fraud: The use of technology to deceive individuals or organizations for financial gain, such as phishing scams, credit card fraud, and identity theft.
  3. Malware: The use of malicious software to damage or disrupt computer systems, networks, or devices.
  4. Cyberstalking: The use of technology to harass or threaten individuals, often through social media or other online platforms.
  5. Cyberbullying: The use of technology to harass, intimidate, or bully individuals, often through social media or other online platforms.

Computer crime is a growing problem as more and more individuals and organizations rely on technology for their daily activities. To combat this type of crime, law enforcement agencies and cybersecurity professionals must work together to identify and prosecute offenders, as well as implement effective security measures to prevent future incidents.

Historically, cybercrime has been difficult to define precisely as it is a complex and evolving concept that encompasses a wide range of illegal activities conducted in the digital realm. Several factors contribute to the difficulty in pinning down a single, universally accepted definition of cybercrime:

Because technology is constantly evolving, and as new technologies emerge, so do new methods of crime and deviance. What may have been considered a cybercrime in the past may not fit the definition today, and new types of cybercrimes continually emerge.

Currently, cybercrime covers a broad spectrum of activities, including hacking, identity theft, online fraud, cyberbullying, cyberterrorism, and much more. Each of these activities involves different methods, motives, and legal implications, making it challenging to create a comprehensive definition that covers them all.

The ostensibly borderless nature of cybercrime makes it an international concern, which has implications on priority, investigative approaches, resources, etc. Consequently, there is no single legal framework that applies globally. Different countries may have different laws and definitions of cybercrime, which further complicates efforts to create a unified definition. In some cases, distinguishing between legal and illegal activities in the digital space can be challenging. Actions that may be considered benign in one context can become illegal when used with malicious intent. For example, the use of certain hacking tools for security research is legal, but using the same tools for unauthorized intrusion is illegal.

The motives behind cybercrime are diverse and can include financial gain, political activism, espionage, or simply malicious intent. These motives can change over time and may not always align with traditional criminal motivations. Therefore, the interdisciplinary approach involving criminology and social sciences is essential for comprehensively addressing cybercrime. It not only enhances our understanding of the motivations and behaviors behind digital offenses but also contributes to the development of effective legal frameworks, law enforcement strategies, and public policies to combat cyber threats in an increasingly interconnected world. In addition, what is considered a cybercrime can vary depending on cultural, ethical, and societal norms. Some activities that are seen as cybercrimes in one culture may not be viewed the same way in another.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), many cybercrimes go unreported due to factors such as embarrassment, fear of retaliation, or a lack of awareness. This makes it difficult to quantify the extent of cybercrime and its various forms. In light of these challenges, various organizations, including governments and international bodies, have attempted to define and classify cybercrimes in ways that encompass the most common and damaging activities. However, these definitions are often adapted and revised to keep pace with the ever-changing landscape of technology and criminal tactics. As a result, cybercrime remains a dynamic and challenging area to define and combat effectively. Therefore, studying cybercrime is crucial in the modern era due to the pervasive role of technology in our daily lives. Despite the reluctance and arguably slow to develop research agenda, criminology and the social sciences play a vital role in understanding and addressing cybercrime, contributing to law enforcement and investigations. Those who work in both the public and private spheres, must continue to engage in data collection and develop frameworks that aid in understanding motivations for engaging in digital deviance and crime.

Criminology as a discipline uniquely positioned to help identify the motivations and behaviors behind cybercriminal activities. By examining the root causes and psychological aspects, researchers can develop profiles that aid law enforcement in anticipating and responding to cyber threats. Criminological research can provide insights into emerging trends and patterns in cybercrime. By analyzing data on past incidents, researchers can help law enforcement agencies predict future threats, enabling a proactive approach to cybercrime prevention. Social science research facilitates international cooperation by fostering a shared understanding of cyber threats, legal challenges, and collaborative solutions among different countries and cultures.

Generally, the social sciences contribute to the development of legal frameworks that govern cyberspace. Cybercrime laws are constantly evolving to keep pace with technological advancements, and criminologists help shape these laws by analyzing the social impact of cyber offenses. Understanding the sociological aspects of cybercrime helps officers develop the necessary skills to investigate and combat digital offenses effectively. Understanding the technical aspects of cybercrime and its implications on society is essential for developing effective investigative strategies and tools.

Beyond detection and enforcement, the ability to contribute to the domain of victimology is significant and should not be ignored. Studying cybercrime from a social science perspective allows for a better understanding of the impact on victims. This knowledge is crucial for developing support systems and interventions to assist individuals and organizations affected by cyberattacks.

Read, Review, Watch, and Listen

  1. Read David L. Carter’s Computer Crime Categories: How Technology Criminals Operate (Carter, 1995) [FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, Vol. 64 (7), pp. 21-27]
  2. Read Lucas Coll’s What is Cybercrime? (U.S. News, Oct. 2022)
  3. Read Gordon and Ford’s On the Definition and Classification of Cybercrime (Gordon & Ford, 2006) – Read all 8 pages
  4. Review the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) list of Significant Cyber Incidents since 2006. Pay attention to the changing prevalence and nature of the incident.
  5. Watch What is Cyber Crime? (Academy, 2016) – located below
  6. Watch Cybersecurity and Crime (Kahn Academy, July 2021) – located below




Students should review the course syllabus to determine the assignment of this activity.

This is a copy of the module’s activity that students find within Blackboard. For that reason, refer to the Activities page to submit your work for review.


The purpose of this week’s activity is to explore the classification process associated with social science inquiry and consider how classification impacts understand of, in this case, cybercrime.


Definitions of cybercrime are intractably connected to the purpose of using the term and such produces challenges for those interested in measuring the phenomena. Interestingly, there are a limited number of acts against the confidentiality, integrity and availability of digital information systems that represent the core of cybercrime. Beyond this, however, acts using technology to facilitate financial gain or harm fall more broadly within the meaning of the term cybercrime. To that end, definitions are required for the core of cybercrime acts. Nevertheless, a definition of cybercrime is often less relevant when defining the scope or specialized investigative powers, which are largely focused on a comprehensive set of activities rather than a rather vague and artificial ‘cybercrime’ construct.


  1. From this week’s module readings, reflect on your review of David Carter’s rather visionary description of computer crime categories; that is, (1) the target of the crime, (2), the instrument of the crime, (3) incidental to the crime, and (4) crimes associated with the prevalence of computers (, and McQuade’s succinct overview of cybercrime (
  2. From this week’s module readings, reflect on your review of Gordon and Ford’s overview of definitions and the classification of cybercrime (
  3. Review Table I – Contemporary Constructs of IT-Enabled Abuse and Crime:

Table I – Contemporary Constructs of IT-enabled Abuse and Crime

IT-enabled deviance Use of computerized or telecommunications devices in ways that violate contemporary social norms
Computer Abuse Use of computers to harm individuals, groups, or organizations
Computer Crime One or more computers required to commit a criminal act
Computer-related Crime Computer-related acts for personal or financial gain or harm, including forms of identity related crime, and computer content-related acts do not lend themselves easily to efforts

to arrive at legal definitions of the aggregate term

Cybercrime Computer and/or IT devices used to commit a criminal act via information systems and related infrastructure
  1. Using a search engine of your choice, identify at least two publicized recent cases of ransomware or child sexual abuse material. *

* Since 2016, the reference of child pornography (CP) has become increasingly replaced with child sexual abuse material. The reasoning is scholars and authors of related publications determined that the latter more accurately describe the nature of the crime. This is a perfect example of how importance definitions are to understanding not only the nature and extent of the phenomena but has legal implications (National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, 2021).

Answer all four (4) questions from one of the following sets:

  1. Using Carter’s classification scheme, do you believe that ransomware should defined as an “instrument”; explain.
  2. In your opinion, what other classification scheme might better classify ransomware? Explain.
  3. Why does the number of cybervictims continue to grow?
  4. Why is computer crime often underreported?


  1. Using Carter’s classification scheme, do you believe that child sexual abuse material should be defined as “incidental”; explain.
  2. In your opinions, what other classification scheme might better classify child sexual abuse material? Explain.
  3. Why does the number of cybervictims continue to grow?
  4. Why is computer crime often underreported?

Key Terms/Concepts

Carter’s classification – (1) the target of the crime, (2) the instrument of the crime, (3) incidental to the crime, and also (4) crimes associated with the prevalence of computers

Computer Crime describes is a broad range of offenses that are like traditional forms of the same non-computer offense, e.g., larceny or fraud. Sam McQuade III (2006) describes computer crime as “Traditional crime committed in a non-traditional way” or as what Peter N. Grabosky refers to as, “The same old wine in new bottles” (OJP, 2000). Some of them are the same as non-computer offenses, such as larceny or fraud, except that a computer or the Internet is used in the commission of the crime. Others, like hacking, are uniquely related to computers. Read on to find out what kinds of activities are considered computer crimes and how to protect yourself from them.

Cybercrime is any criminal offense (e.g., fraud, theft, or distribution of child pornography [CP]) committed using a computer specially to access without authorization, transmit, or manipulate data via the Internet or otherwise aided by various forms of computer technology, such as the use of online social networks to bully others or sending sexually explicit digital photos with a smart phone.

Cyber victimization is one consequence of technology use. Cyber victimization is defined as experiencing aggressive behaviors via information and communication technologies, such as the internet, gaming consoles, and mobile phones. Gordon and Ford two-category scheme – a two-category scheme to classify cybercrimes into (a) Type I offenses and (b) Type II offenses.

Refer to the course learning management system (LMS); that is Blackboard (BB), for the correct due date. In addition, submit your work via BB for grading.

Discussion Questions

  1. Considering that technology and digital platforms are constantly evolving, how do these changes impact the definition and scope of cybercrime? Discuss how the dynamic nature of technology challenges law enforcement and legal frameworks in identifying and prosecuting cybercrime activities.
  2. Describe the implications of the borderless nature of cybercrime for international law enforcement cooperation. How do varying definitions and legal frameworks across countries complicate efforts to combat cybercrime on a global scale?
  3. How can criminological theories and research help in identifying the motivations behind cybercriminal activities and aid in developing effective prevention strategies?
  4. With cybercrime constantly evolving, what are some of the latest trends and emerging threats in the digital world? Also, discuss how law enforcement agencies can use criminological research to anticipate and prepare for future cybercrime tactics.
  5. Discuss the importance of studying cybercrime from a victimology perspective. How can understanding the sociological aspects of cybercrime help in developing better support systems and interventions for victims?

Supplemental Resources

Read, Review, Watch and Listen to all listed materials by the due date listed within the course LMS site.

Click HERE to report any needed updates, e.g., broken links.



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Computers and Criminal Justice Copyright © 2021 by Eric R. Ramirez-Thompson, PhD is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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