Book Review of Cybercrime:
The Transformation of Crime in the
Helsinki Institute for Information Technology, Finland
Cybercrime: The Transformation of
Crime in the Information Age, David S. Wall, 2007, Polity Press,
Cambridge, UK, 288 pages, AUS $49.95, (Paperback), ISBN
Information networks have brought us new sorts of crimes. We only
have to look into our email inboxes. Scammers are luring us to
follow links to fake websites, to give up our security codes and
passwords or to download malicious software that enables criminals
to hijack our computers.
book Cybercrime: The Transformation of Crime in the Information Age
is an exploration of the transformations that have taken place in
criminal activity and its regulation as a result of networked
technologies. Wall’s central thesis is that cyber crime is not
merely behavior mediated by technology but also by social and legal
values and economic drivers. Wall lists one of the social issues to
be “social deskilling” where network members do not experience a
holistic community experience. For instance, it is easier to steal a
penny from millions of bank account owners using the Internet, than
to rob a bank with a gun in a bank teller’s face. The apparent
“anonymity” of victim-offender relationships is a characteristic
feature of this and all other forms of cyber crime.
acknowledges in the preface that the task of describing Cybercrime
is hard as the subject matter changes rapidly. Nevertheless, three
years after Wall finished his work it is still in many ways current.
The fast pace of evolving cyber crime is not the only challenge
researchers face. As Wall points out, discussion around cyber crime
has been dominated by media and politicians who often act out of
fear and without real knowledge of the nature and scale of the
problem. This has often lead to the introduction of new legislation
which has tried to satisfy the interests of corporate and State,
while at the same time discussion of the principles of liberty and
freedom of expression has been dampened.
raises the level of argument by providing a collection of relevant
data and a scientific framework for his analysis of the phenomenon.
Wall’s approach is interdisciplinary and he ties his research to
previous work of social scientists like Manuel Castells and
cyber-lawyers like Lawrence Lessig and James Boyle.
Wall’s work provides two excellent distinctions. Firstly, Wall
distinguishes the generations of cyber crime. First generation cyber
crime used computers for criminal activity, whereas second
generation cyber crime is committed in networks. The emerging third
generation of cyber crime is automated and mediated by Internet
Secondly, Wall groups cyber crime into three groups: Offences
related to the integrity of the computer system (think of viruses
and spam in your email box), offences assisted by computers (for
example “419” and selling pirated medicines) and offences which
focus upon the content of computers (file sharing and kiddy porn).
distinctions make the cyber crime phenomenon easier to grasp. It is
easier to study and fight crimes that are more narrowly defined.
Wall’s criminals are crackers, spammers and script kiddies who
spread malicious software and try to scam our money and hijack our
computers. Nevertheless, many European countries have criminalized
peer-to-peer file sharing which turns tens of millions of teenagers
into cyber criminals. The everyday cyber crimes where the criminals
are not the Chinese mafia or nasty black hat hackers is something
that Wall ignores. However, Wall’s book might not be the right forum
to examine the question.
Cybercrime is a well researched,
thoughtful and up-to-date examination of the reasons why cyber crime
flourishes. It describes how we have ended up in the current
situation and how we could study and fight cyber criminals. I warmly
recommend the book for any cyber crime class and cyber society
©International Journal of Emerging Technologies and Society,
http://www.swin.edu.au/ijets "This book review was
originally published in iJETS (the International Journal of
Emerging Technologies and Society), Volume 7, No 1, 2009" at:
Researcher, Helsinki Institute for Information Technology, Spektri Business Park, Pilotti, Metsänneidonkuja 4, Espoo, Finland. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org