Are We Doing Enough To Address Small Scale Cybercrime? 

Cybercrime has become more dangerous in the last several years. In particular, attackers have used ransomware to take hospital and business records hostage and extract huge payments for their return. And older practices, such as DoS attacks targeting servers, continue to plague businesses. Unfortunately, while these attacks continue to proliferate, the focus on large scale attacks may be detracting from smaller scale actions, specifically those targeting individuals. 

To fully address the problem of cybercrime, law enforcement professionals need to turn their attention to personal attacks, including cyberstalking, identity theft, and revenge porn, thoroughly modern crimes with far-reaching consequences. Citizens deserve the same protection as corporations, yet their digital security needs are often overlooked.

Savvy Cyberstalkers

Before the advent of the internet, and particularly of social media, stalking took real effort. You had to have a lot of free time, able to evade detection, and had to literally follow your subject wherever they went. Today’s cyberstalkers just need an internet connection and often can do their work largely using information their subjects willingly share – and anyone can be a victim. One Delaware attorney was a victim of cyberstalking perpetrated by a disgruntled law school interviewee. Many others are victims of abusive former partners.

Cyberstalking is one of the older forms of personally-focused cybercrime, so it’s better understood than other forms. Criminal defense attorneys like Ward & Barnes have had time to adapt their normal strategies to cope with cybercrime, and law enforcement professionals are also more likely to recognize the crime and take it seriously. In fact, cyberstalking is one of the crimes recognized by Florida’s new cybercrime hotline.

Revenge Porn

While cyberstalking is one of the older forms of cybercrime, revenge porn, in which someone posts nude pictures – which may even be fabricated – online to shame another person, usually an ex-partner, is a much more recent type of crime. In fact, it’s so new that revenge porn is barely recognized in some states. Some states consider it a minor violation; Alaska classifies revenge porn as misdemeanor harassment punishable by a small fine or up to 90 days in jail. On the other hand, many other states have elevated the nonconsensual dissemination of pornographic images as a felony, which comes with more substantive consequences.

Though it has received somewhat more attention in the last year or two, few prosecutors have really turned their attention to revenge porn, but there is one high profile exception: presidential candidate Kamala Harris. 

During her time as a prosecutor, Harris has focused heavily on addressing criminal exploitation, such as sex tracking and child abuse and so-called revenge porn became a key part of her docket in 2015. As law professor Danielle Citron recalls it, Harris opened a meeting with technology executives by declaring, “First, don’t call it revenge porn. It’s not.” Harris demonstrated a deep commitment to reclassifying the act as a form of cyber-exploitation, not the harmless action of a disgruntled ex-lover. It’s not pornography, free speech, or anything of the sort. 

A Federal Concern

Ultimately, cybercrimes, even on the individual level, should be a primarily considered a federal issue because the internet unavoidably crosses state lines, and technically speaking, the FBI does take an interest in it. Given the very basic nature of the FBI’s cybercrime page, however, they don’t seem to consider it a high priority. 

Individuals, especially young women, feel immensely vulnerable to cybercrime, yet we only seem to talk about attacks targeting major corporations like data breaches and ransomware attacks. The fact is, cybercrime is an equal opportunity violation and we have very few estimates regarding how many individuals it impacts. Until there are better frameworks for reporting and prosecuting these crimes, we won’t have a good sense of their scope or impact.