computer crime | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Criminal Law

Computer crime, also known as cybercrime, refers to criminal activities that are committed using the Internet or other forms of computer networks.

In our increasingly digital world, a new type of crime has emerged, known as computer crime or cybercrime. This refers to any criminal activity involving computers and networks. These crimes can range from minor infractions to severe offenses, with the potential for significant penalties like fines, jail time, or damage to reputation. Let’s dive deeper into understanding what computer crimes are, some common types, and their potential impact.

What is Computer Crime?

When we talk about computer crime, we’re referring to crimes committed using computers or the internet. This doesn’t just mean crimes involving a single personal computer. It could involve large networks of computers, mobile devices, gaming consoles, smart devices – basically, anything connected to the internet.

Just like how traditional crimes can vary in severity, so too can computer crimes. They can be as minor as using someone else’s Wi-Fi without permission, often called “piggybacking,” to something major like breaking into a government’s computer systems.

Common Types of Computer Crimes

Now that we understand what computer crime is let’s look at some common types:

  1. Identity Theft: This is when someone steals another person’s personal information, like their name, Social Security number, or credit card details. The thief can use this information to commit fraud, such as opening a new credit card account in the victim’s name.
  2. Cyberbullying: This involves using the internet or other digital communication tools to harass or intimidate someone. It can take many forms, such as sending threatening messages or spreading harmful rumors about someone online.
  3. Phishing: This is a sneaky tactic where criminals send fake emails or texts that look like they’re from a trustworthy source. The goal is to trick people into giving away personal information or login details. For example, you might get an email that looks like it’s from your bank, asking you to confirm your account details. But if you click the link and enter your information, it actually goes straight to the criminals.
  4. Distribution of Malicious Software: This involves spreading harmful software, often called malware, which can damage or disrupt computer systems. This can include viruses, which can spread to other computers, or ransomware, which locks up a computer until a ransom is paid.

The Impact of Computer Crimes

Computer crimes can have serious consequences, not only for the person committing the crime but also for their victims. For criminals, they can face legal consequences, such as fines or even jail time. Some computer crimes, like hacking into a government’s systems, can lead to years in prison.

For the victims, the impact can also be severe. Victims of identity theft can face financial loss and damage to their credit score, and it can take a lot of time and effort to fix. Cyberbullying can lead to emotional distress and has even been linked to mental health issues in young people. Businesses that fall victim to phishing or malware attacks can lose a lot of money, sensitive data, and their reputation can suffer.


Computer crime, or cybercrime, is a serious issue in our digital age. It includes a wide range of offenses, from identity theft to cyberbullying to phishing and distributing malware. These crimes can have severe impacts on both the individuals who commit them and their victims. As we spend more time online, it’s crucial to be aware of these risks and take steps to protect ourselves and our digital spaces.

[ Glossary ]

Last Modified: 05/14/2023


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