Like a crowbar or hammer, computers are designed to make our lives and jobs easier. And, just like a crowbar or hammer, computers can be used either as constructive tools or destructive weapons. Unethical computer use is a violation of trust that can damage finances and reputations, and even lead to serious consequences, such as jail time. At the end of the day, when computers are used in unethical ways, it is people who are harmed.
Identity Theft and Fraud
Identity theft and fraud are characterized by criminal use of the victim's personal information, such as a Social Security number, to assume the victim's identity. Identity thieves use the stolen personal information to create fake identifications, obtain credit cards or access other resources and benefits. The criminals may install malicious software to gain access to the victim's computer files and activity, or target commercial and government computer systems to steal the personal information of hundreds or thousands of potential victims at once.
The Internet is often called the "Information Superhighway" because it allows people to find, share, and distribute information quickly and easily using computers. However, not all that information is ethical or legal. Distributing and accessing illegal copies of copyright-protected digital books, movies, music, artwork, software, and other content is a form of copyright infringement, commonly referred to as "piracy." When digital products and works are pirated, the content creators lose money they would have otherwise earned had that work been legally purchased or licensed. (See Reference 3)
Financial Theft and Fraud
Thieves and embezzlers can use computers to steal money from individuals or businesses. A thief can gain online access to an individual's bank account using a victim's stolen password, PIN or personal information. Using stolen credit card information, a thief can order goods online and later sell those goods for cash. An employee with access to business accounting systems may falsify records or manipulate the systems to embezzle funds.
Spies, criminals, and snoops can steal private or classified information by gaining unauthorized access to the victim's computer or inappropriately using computers to which they been given access. Their goals may be to leak or sell classified government documents, use stolen personal information to extort a victim, gain an advantage over a competitor, or simply pry into the private life of a family member or coworker. Privacy invasion, spying and information theft may be punishable under a number of laws designed to protect individuals, businesses, or national security. Employees caught snooping or stealing data may lose their jobs even if their acts were technically legal.
Disruption to Computers or Services
Disrupting a computer or network may involve using malicious software to make a computer unusable or using several computers to block access to a website, network or other resource. These types of attacks may be done to extort money from the victim, make a political statement or force the victim into a specific action. Sometimes, the attackers commit these acts simply for entertainment.
- Information Security Today: Introduction to Computer Ethics
- U.S. Department of Justice: Identity Theft and Identity Fraud
- RIAA: What is Online Piracy?
- FindLaw: Embezzlement
- EFF Internet Law Treatise: Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA)
- U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation: New Internet Scam ‘Ransomware’ Locks Computers, Demands Payment
- US-CERT: Security Tip (ST04-015) Understanding Denial-of-Service Attacks
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