Cybercrime is a growing problem in our technologically dependent society, costing the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars through scams and phishing schemes and exacting a heavy mental and emotional toll on those affected by instances of identity theft, which falls under the same umbrella. The crimes, ranging from the spreading of malicious code to cyber stalking, are serious, but do the punishments fit the crime? In certain cases, not at all; in fact, the punishments sometimes reward the cybercriminals.
In 2008, a New Zealand teenager pleaded guilty to a number of charges that carried maximum sentences of seven years in prison (the charges included accessing a computer for dishonest purpose, damaging or interfering with a computer system, possessing software for committing crime, and accessing a computer system without authorization). Owen Thor Walker taught himself the complexities of programming, and led a botnet coding group that infected over a million computers and caused the loss of about $26 million (figures vary).
Deciding that a conviction might mar Walker’s bright future, Justice Judith Potter dismissed the charges (although the youth still had to pay damages). Walker’s talents have since landed him a job as a security consultant, where his expertise from the perspective of the cybercriminal is of high value.
With cybercrime on the rise, what sort of message does this instance send? While Walker’s intent may not have been malicious, security at a prominent US university was nonetheless compromised for the sake of a youngster’s interest in computers. Huge amounts of money are often at stake, and cybercriminals stand to gain a lot financially. What sort of precedent do legal officials want to set, while still keeping in mind the difference in maturity between a 17-year-old hacker and a 40-year-old hacker?
BBC News “NZ teenage hacker charges dropped” http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7509052.stm
Wikipedia, Owen Walker http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Owen_Walker
New Zealand Herald “Freed hacker could work for police” http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10521796
WA Today “Telstra offshoot hires teen hacker ‘Akill’” http://www.watoday.com.au/national/telstra-offshoot-hires-teen-hacker-akill-20090324-97yn.html?page=-1