Ethical Issues-Computer Crimes

By some estimates the personal records of about 73 million people in the U.S. were accidentally disclosed, lost, or stolen in 2006. In one high-profile case, a burglary at the home of an employee of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs resulted in the theft of a computer that contained personal data on more than 26 million current and former members of the U.S. military. The computer was later recovered, its data apparently untouched by the thieves, who had not realized what they had taken. There were fears that millions of other people might not be so lucky, however. In many cases the lost information included credit-card and Social Security numbers, which fueled concerns that stolen information could lead to widespread consumer fraud. In an 18-month period during 2005–06, well over 200 different security breaches at companies and government agencies were reported. As a result, credit-card issuers tried to reduce their vulnerability by pressuring companies that handled credit-card transactions to comply with strict new credit-card security standards that were backed by Visa and MasterCard. As the year ended, it appeared that identity theft had not risen to the level suggested by the amount of personal information that had been compromised, but there was no way to know whether identity thieves were simply biding their time before they used the information to steal money through bank or credit-card accounts.

Perpetrators of identity theft who had been caught recounted the ease with which they cashed in on stolen information. Thieves typically stole identity information when it was inadvertently disclosed or through “phishing” schemes, in which they used e-mail to persuade people to submit a credit-card number or other personal information to a fake Web page that pretended to represent a real business. Using a stolen credit-card number, the thieves then transferred money to themselves from a victim's account or purchased goods by using the victim's identity. The scope of the theft efforts was huge; in a single month more than 17,000 phishing attacks were reported to volunteer groups trying to prevent identity theft.

Many different computer crimes are committed, which clearly poses ethical questions for society. Various illegal acts are performed on computers, such as fraud and embezzlement. This includes, for example, using imaging and desktop publishing to create, copy or alter official documents and graphic images. There are also various ethical dilemmas, such as whether copying such files is as bad as stealing something.


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