Australian Institute of Criminology

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Cybercrime in focus

The widespread use of the internet has brought with it a raft of traditional and new crimes that can now be committed in cyberspace.

These cybercrimes range from fraud, hacking, money laundering and theft, through to cyberstalking, cyberbullying, identity theft, child sexual exploitation and child grooming. The extent of cybercrime in Australia is difficult to quantify as it is generally underreported.

However, given that the average Australian household owns a PC or laptop or both (1.61 computers per household in 2009 – Australian Digital Atlas, 2009) the opportunity for cybercrime to occur at home in this country is considerable. 

Business is also at risk with 14 per cent of Australian businesses experiencing one or more incidents of cybercrime in 2006-07 (Australian Business Assessment of Computer User Safety survey, 2009).

How it happens

Fraudsters seize on many opportunities made possible by the internet to reach and exploit unwitting victims. They have developed countless and often elaborate ways to trap people and steal their money, private information and even their identity (see SCAMwatch). Common scams include ‘phishing’ when a scammer pretends to be a genuine enterprise and convinces a person to hand over private or financial information, which they then exploit. Scammers also use the internet to lure individuals into paying an advance or up-front fee for an object or service, which then never eventuates. Money lost through scams is unlikely to be recovered.

Hackers focus more on the computer systems themselves than the users. They are able to exploit computer systems using vulnerable computers for example, to obtain personal or commercial information from the system itself. By hacking email, social networking sites and online trading sites, hackers may access credit card details, steal individual identities or access personal information.

Children using websites, chatrooms and social networking sites may be exposed to crimes such as cyberstalking, cyberbullying and cybergrooming. A study by Monash University found that 72 per cent of surveyed Australian middle school students had experienced unwanted or unpleasant contact by strangers on their social networking profile. Illegal material, such as photos that exploit children, is also widely distributed online.

AIC research

The AIC continues to research cybercrime. Its findings are used to inform policy makers, feed into the development of crime prevention programs, raise awareness for potential victims, assist law enforcement agencies when allocating their resources, and contribute to the development of improved security.

Current cybercrime projects include:

Fraud Survey

Each year, the AIC surveys computer users online to determine the nature and extent of their experience of consumer scams. This forms part of the annual awareness-raising activities of the Australasian Consumer Fraud Taskforce.

Online Child Exploitation

A project exploring the relationship between use of online child exploitation material, use of internet-enabled technologies to procure children, and actual sexual assault. The AIC and University of Canberra were recently awarded a Criminology Research Grant for this research.

Misuse of ICT in the Public Sector, nature and extent

This project examines the nature and extent of internal misuse of ICT within Australian government agencies. It draws on the findings of the Fraud against the Commonwealth Surveys conducted by the Australian Institute of Criminology for the 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11 reporting periods.