What Is A Cybercrime? What You Need to Know to Stay Safe

Evan Porter
Posted: April 9, 2019

The Internet has opened up unlimited possibilities for us to consume information and connect with the rest of the world.

Unfortunately, it’s also opened up plenty of back doors for criminals.

Cybercrime is a relatively new phenomenon, and it refers to any crime carried out by someone using a computer or electronic device, especially over the Internet.

Almost anything can be considered a cybercrime if it targets or uses a computer device, so here’s our full guide to the different types of cybercrime to be aware of and how to protect yourself from them.

The Different Types of Cyber Crime

Cybercrime is a broad term that covers a lot of different illegal activities.

When it comes to official law enforcement agencies like the FBI, cybercrime is typically broken down into three main categories (though there is plenty of overlap and the lines between them can get blurry):

Computer As a Target

Often, a computer, network, or mobile device itself is the actual target of the crime.

This could include attempts to disrupt a network, destroy digital files, or simply cause chaos.

Cyber crimes where a computer or digital device is the target might include:

Computer As a Weapon

Computer As a Weapon

Nasanbuyn [CC BY-SA 4.0]

In other attacks, a computer or other digital device is weaponized to cause damage or disruption, or to personally attack an individual.

A good example of this kind of cybercrime would be a DDoS attack, or Distributed Denial of Service.

In these attacks, an army of zombie computers called a botnet all send traffic or requests to a server at the same time, usually knocking it offline temporarily.

Computer as a weapon crimes can also include:

  • Phishing & Identity Theft
  • Ransomware
  • Doxware
  • Revenge porn

Computer As an Accessory

This category includes any other kind of crime that can be, but doesn’t have to be, committed online. These cases are considered cyber crimes when the computer or Internet-enabled device is integral to carrying out the crime.

For example, someone might use their computer and Internet access to engage in:

  • Hate speech
  • Sale or possession of illegal items (weapons, drugs, child pornography)
  • Illegal gambling
  • Copyright violations
  • Cyberstalking or harassment

Tips to Protect Yourself from Cyber Criminals

With there being so many different kinds of cybercrime, how can you possibly protect yourself against all of them?

Unfortunately, you can never guarantee you’ll won’t be victimized by a cybercriminal. But there are plenty of critical steps to take (and behaviors to avoid) in your day to day device usage to dramatically improve your odds of staying safe.

Always Use An Antivirus

A strong antivirus on your computers and mobile devices should be your first line of defense.

The best ones will:

  • Stop malware and viruses in their tracks
  • Protect you from phishing and identity theft
  • Include a powerful firewall
  • Offer secure online shopping protection
  • And more

A good antivirus isn’t a complete cure-all, and it’s no excuse not to practice safe browsing behavior online, but you’ll be a lot better off having one and (hopefully) never needing it.

Avoid Untrustworthy Websites

Shady websites (often, but not always, in the adult, gambling, or piracy niches) can wreak havoc on your online safety.

Drive-by downloads — that’s when your computer begins a download without you even knowing about it — can be triggered just by visiting certain websites or clicking suspicious ads. If a website forces a download onto your computer, you can bet it’s not something you’ll want; most likely malware or adware.

Don’t Download Freeware, Cracked Software, Or Anything From Unofficial Marketplaces

As tempting as getting something for nothing sounds, free downloads can be a risky endeavor.

To avoid unwittingly installing malware on your computer, stick to only downloading from trusted sources like:

  • Official software websites
  • iTunes
  • The Android store
  • Amazon
  • And other official marketplaces

Beware Of Phishing Attempts

Beware Of Phishing Attempts

Wesley Fryer/Flickr

Sometimes, criminals will come right out and ask you to hand over your most sensitive information. This manipulative practice is called phishing.

They may pretend to be a representative from your bank or of the government, and they may need you to verify your social security, credit card number, and more.

Don’t be fooled. Always verify someone’s identity before giving out private or financial information, and check out the rest of our guide to staying safe from phishing.

Update All Software And Operating Systems Regularly

You know that annoying pop-up that keeps telling you to download the latest update for your operating system?

Stop ignoring it!

Unpatched security vulnerabilities, sometimes called exploits, offer an easy backdoor for hackers and criminals to infect your device. Security patches and updates are often pushed out by software providers to keep you safe from known exploits.

Use Strong Passwords

Your easy-to-remember passwords may be putting you at risk.

Modern password-cracking techniques have become extremely sophisticated, with brute force and dictionary attacks sometimes easily figuring out common or uncomplicated passwords.

This is why most secure websites require you to use longer passwords with special characters. Even if they don’t, it’s a good habit to get into for better protection of your accounts.

Use Parental Controls Or Monitoring For Kids

If your children use your phone or computer, or have their own, you’d be wise to monitor their activity closely.

Be sure they don’t have access to your saved payment information and that inappropriate websites and content are blocked.

Some antivirus programs include parental monitoring features. For teenagers, you may want to look into monitoring software that gives them some freedom and privacy but alerts you to threats.

Don’t Overshare On Social Media

You’d be amazed what a hacker can do with just a few bits of information about you like your birthday or address. Through social engineering (an advanced form of phishing), a criminal could deduce your social security number, bank account number, or more just by having access to a couple of basic data points.

Don’t give away too much on social media. Blur out your address in photos. Don’t reveal clues that might lead to your main passwords (like children’s or pets’ names)

You may even want to hide your birthday from being visible publicly.

Report Online Crimes

It seems obvious, but you should always report cyber crimes to the proper authorities. Many people don’t.

Everyone knows that identity theft and credit card fraud are crimes, but if someone is harassing you online, pretending to be you and causing damage to your career or reputation, or blackmailing you with ransomware or doxware, those are also serious offenses.

Keep yourself as safe as possible with a strong antivirus and safe browsing behavior, and don’t be afraid to inform the local police or even the FBI when you come into contact with a cybercriminal.

About the Author

Evan Porter
Evan Porter

Evan is a writer with over a decade of digital publishing experience. He also builds blogs, loves gadgets, and fixes tech problems around the house.