The computer has been used to commit crimes, right from its inception. More recently, the city of Chicago has had to contend with the reality of cyber extortion. The state has certain duties and liabilities which include investigation and prosecutorial powers. The essential ingredients of the crime are that the offender gets the victim to do or not do certain things in order to avoid being harmed. The internet is then the conduit through which they make the threats, agree the illegal contracts and collect on them. Hackers have found the computer to be perfect for blackmail and ransom notes. One of their favorite tricks is to obtain sensitive information from an organization and then threaten to publish it unless their demands are fully met.
The demands invariably include monetary compensation but the standards of the crime can still be met even if money does not exchange hands. At other times the hackers will plant malicious information or programs for which only they have the key. That means that unless the victim accepts their demands, they will let the program wreak havoc. That havoc might involve wiping out the entire database of company information. Hackers may even deny an organization access to its own files in order to ensure that they can comply with the extortion demands. The range of victims is startling including municipalities, hospitals, government agencies and even private individuals.
A Violation of Privacy and Property
The organization that has been attacked has many problems to deal with in the aftermath. First of all, it must notify all the innocent third-party victims who are affected. This could be an obligation under existing laws. For example, the loss of credit card information is reportable; not just under the data protection act but also as part of the contractual terms. The affected organization has a lot more to lose than its reputation for security. That is why the hackers feel confident enough to make the demands. They know that they cannot possibly be refused. This is what intimidation really is. For other criminals, this is a gateway crime that allows them to pick up information that they can use to threaten and extort a wider network of victims than the immediate controller of the information.
When the law was first conceived, there was a tendency to look for equivalence with the offline extortion as well as blackmail. However, later on it was recognized that cyber extortion was a unique crime that required unique responses in order to deal with its impact in full. The short time frame that is provided for absolute compliance also adds another dimension of panic for the victim so that they have no option but to focus on responding to the requirements or demands of the criminal. Others have pointed out the possibility that this may be organized crime since it involves syndicates of people who have highly technical and specialized knowledge of electronic devices and the internet.
Important Considerations for the Prosecutor
The prosecutor will try to prove that there was mens rea to the effect that the offender wanted to harm the victim. They will also look at the modus operandi in order to assess the extortion techniques that were used. If violence is threatened or actually used, then this will be an aggravating feature. The impact on the victim will be of importance too under the provisions of 720 ILCS 5/12-6. For example, if the losses are significant or if there is a lot of time expended on sorting out the mess then the courts are likely to treat the crime as being serious enough to warrant a significant term of custody. The federal agencies might be called in to take up some aspects of the case. If you need a great lawyer to take your case, contact David Freidberg attorney at law now at (312) 560-7100.
(image courtesy of Benjamin Voros)