Thursday, February 02, 2006

Robin Hood . . .

Cybercrimes fall, I would argue, into two basic categories: Those that are committed for money; and those that are not.

The vast majority of cybercrimes (fraud, extortion, identity theft, etc.) are clearly committed for money -- to enrich the person who commits the cybercrime.

But a story I read yesterday reminded me of the possibilities of becoming an online Robin Hood.

New Zealander Thomas Gawith is apparently a hacker with a sense of social obligation. He broke into six bank accounts to which he had no legal claim, extracted roughly $13,700 from the accounts and transferred the money to individuals whom he deemed to be "poor" and in need of funds. When his exploit came to light and he was questioned by local police, he said he didn't think he'd done anything wrong because he did not keep any of the money for himself. The police disagreed: He was charged with six counts of "computer crime," pled guilty to all or some of those counts, and will be sentenced on March 2.

Gawith reminds me of a similar, though anonymous exploit I read about several years ago: An unknown hacker accessed a server used by an online casino and altered its programming so that, for an hour or two, everyone who played poker or the slots won. The people playing those games won roughly $1.9 million before the casino discovered what was happening; according to the news report I saw, the casino honored its commitment to the players and paid up.

It's interesting to note that there are at least a few cyber-Robin Hoods out there.

It's also interesting to contemplate how these activities fall into the category of cybercrime:

Gawith clearly committed "computer crime" in the sense of gaining unauthorized access to the six bank accounts he looted. And like Robin Hood, he committed theft because, while he did not keep the money he took, he did take the funds from their lawful owners against their wishes (and without their knowledge).

The anonymous casino Robin Hood, on the other hand, did not personally "take" any money from the casino. He merely diverted casino funds to people playing poker and slots. Our ability to charge him with theft -- at least in any traditional sense -- is further complicated by the fact that we presumably do not know, cannot know, how many of those players would actually have won had Robin Hood not intervened.

We could always charge the anonymous casino Robin Hood with gaining unauthorized access to the casino's server . . . but that seems somehow inadequate, given what he accomplished with that access.

No comments: