Myths, Power and Reportage: A compendium of sociological blogs on the varieties of cybercrime and cyber-criminals

Editor: Daniel R. Smith

Authors (in order of appearance): Charlie Povah; Amy Gibbons; Gino Ofori-Buahin; Hannah Ellen; Chris Saker; Harry Paterson; Naomi Kreeger; Rebecca Andries; Jayren Dempsey; Hannah Page; Chris Carr; Ana Slezinger; Emma Grassie; Brunelle Bonsu; Emma Cheesman; Fiona Kinghorn; Rebekah Guy; Laura Buxton; Maria Keane; Patrice Ledgister; Alice Rowe; Ellie Bissell.

Editor’s Introduction

Last week the students taking the Crime and Deviance module here at Canterbury Christ Church University had a session on cybercrime, wherein they produced blogs on the topic. We approached the session with the question: what is cybercrime and how does it illustrate features of our late-modern, or postmodern, social reality? Cybercrime was understood from a variety of angles, from its reportage to contemporary examples from MTV’s show Catfish through to WikiLeaks and the reality of hacking, online identity theft.

This compendium blog details this question as the students approach the topic from their personal relationship to it, using their own cyber practice as the basis for analysis, or reportage by engaging in content and discourse analysis of cybercrimes, or taking a topic – encryption, WikiLeaks, or Catfish – and using their sociological knowledge to unpack the issues surrounding them.

To contexualise the question, the ‘what and how of cybercrime’ – as the reader will gleam from the blogs that follow – is a consequence of engagement with online life. We begin with this in the section entitled Reportage. We are first introduced to the reportage surrounding hackers and their technics which, we learn, are an extension and realisation of the potential that online media gives all persons. Hacking is extended autonomy and the realised potential of the technology. If modernity witnesses Promethus unbound, then the hacker further shows – as philosopher Bernard Stiegler might say – ‘the fault of epimethus’: the blogs expose the fact that the technology which makes possible the vast milieu of online life also facilitates so-called hacking. The foresight of hackers counteracts and thorns the hindsight of legal authority.

This theme is elaborated throughout and hackers become the heroes. Ultimately this theme addresses the reality of using online media, illustrating what Daniel Miller and Jolynna Sinanan (2014) have called their ‘theory of attainment’: social media technology – from Facebook to the use of Skype – illustrates a general fact of technology in general. First, taking their cue from Goffman (1974), they point out all social life is framed and mediated through artifices; social media is merely an extension of this fact. We see this as the blogs reflect upon all the features of Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr, etc. Not only do these sites make note of Beck’s statement of late modernity that “individuals must produce, stage and cobble together their biographies.” (Beck, 1994:13) But they extend this to speak to the fact that Miller and Jolynna (2014:12) bring our attention to: “It is …when this facility becomes the merely taken-for-granted condition of what people simply presume as an integral aspect of who they are” that we are speaking of ‘attainment’. Technology as and is second nature. We are so used to a life-online in various social media. Indeed it is ‘fun’ and a central feature of pop culture engagement. As such, the question of the risks seldom are reflected upon; the blogs illustrate some of the questions surrounding this in the sections entitled  Hackers, Cryptology and the Digital Generation and (cyber)-identity and the presentation of self?

Next we extend this concern with technological potential to the question of sovereignty and authority in the digital age as we explore WikiLeaks. The blogs pick up the theme of the alleged criminality of Assange and his enterprise and explore the question of government authority. While the blogs detail different sides of WikiLeaks, they all fall on the side of Assange. And while they are framed differently, the overarching theme can be found in Agamben’s political philosophy: WikiLeaks illustrates the paradox of sovereignty, “the fact that the sovereign is, at the same time, outside and inside the juridical order.” (Agamben, 1995:15) They speak to the heroic autonomy that Assange has taken up in an age of secrecy, governance as conspiracy via such secret keepers, and the paradox of such political action – that acting as a citizen in a democracy requires acting outside the law, i.e. taking up the position of the sovereign as both outside and inside the law through decisions, the decision to leak information. With Assange as the devil of government or champion of democratic free speech, I am reminded of Shakespeare’s Corelianius after he is granted the official Roman Senate cogonmen (nickname) of Corelianius. After his heroic acts become law, he is then the figure of hatred and seen as a tyrant: so too with Assange, the heroic act of whistle blowing then becomes a tyrannical act of terror on the populace’s security.

These paradoxes continue as the final section, Cat-phising, as it explores the latest hit MTV show Catfish and the paradox of truth and trust. Trust, as hallmark of modern social relations predicated upon disembedding mechanism (Giddens, 1990), has as its analogue that of truth. Those we trust give us truths. Online hacking often comes down to a trust exercise through ‘social engineering’, as Douglas Thomas (2002:293f) has illustrated, and the metaphor of ‘fishing’ is telling in this regard. For fishing is really phishing: the construction of a hoax to catch one’s prey. As the essence of traps is that the hunter must take the position of the hunted, i.e. become the prey in order to catch it, posing as a fake online persona is the first step to gaining truths. As Shakespeare’s Polonius says of his own phishing exercise in Hamlet, “Your bait of falsehood takes this carp of truth / And thus do we of wisdom and of reach, … By indirections find directions out.” The lie is the way to the truth, paradoxically.



How Do Newspapers Depict Hackers?

Charlie Povah

The Guardian newspaper website published an article on the 12th November 2013 by Marc Rogers regarding possible government plans to recruit hackers with a criminal background into a new “military cyber force”.  The main reason cited for this was that hackers have the potential to help governments and businesses to “improve security procedures, fight crime and even boost competitive advantage”.  It continues by explaining that hackers are now a part of every major security or technical corporation, and that hackers are now a “cherished” commodity in these areas, but that businesses have not used them so far because they inherently mistrust them, and do not understand them.

Sociological theory says that hackers, particularly ‘old school’ hackers were simply people who were very good with computers, enjoyed playing with computer code, and wanted information to be free: a sentiment that the author of this article agrees with.  There were even rules within hacking culture, which forbade hackers from acting maliciously, seeking illegal financial gain and harming the system they used, but over time, ‘old school’ hacking gave way to ‘new school’ hacking, and this is where the negative press and dangers began.  Rogers corroborate this explaining that the ‘old school’ hackers were replaced with “younger, more reckless breed of electronic warrior”, bringing in the language of warfare to depict a negative view of hackers.  He then explains that these new hackers separated into two distinctive subgroups: those who adhered to the old ethical code (the ‘whitehats’), and those who did not because they just wanted to hack systems (the ‘blackhats’).

However, it was only the blackhats that the public ever heard about, and as media attention to them increased, big business and the public became more fearful of this new breed of criminal who might steal information from them at any time.  The article does not give any reasons for the motivations of these ‘new school’ hackers, but sociological theory suggests that because we live in a world where all information is kept secret and secure, these hackers want to make the information public, because the public has a right to know what is going on behind the closed doors of governments and big business, especially if criminal or immoral acts are being committed.  However, this article makes it very clear that hackers were, and are, portrayed in the media as a very real threat to the core of society, capable of almost anything, and what is worse, we cannot see who it is that is stealing from us, so that makes us more fearful and vulnerable.  This then meant that if the ‘hacker’ label was attached to anyone, no matter how intelligent or capable they were, they were now unemployable.

The article does then finish on a positive note, and unlike much other mainstream media explains how hackers can and have been employed as a force for good, such as within he US government working on cyber defence and other military applications.  Rogers continues his positive slant by explaining that just because somebody is or has been a hacker, it does not necessarily make them a criminal, rather, it can simply mean that the individual has an extraordinary skill that could be utilised for crucial roles in or society’s cyber future.  He finishes by explaining that hackers today are in high demand particularly when defence or building military technology, fighting cybercrime on behalf of the police or solving cyber threats for businesses are concerned.  It is nice to read an article that puts a positive spin on hackers, and that explains that just because a person is good with a computer that does not make him a criminal.  However, the fact that the author is a former hacker himself does mean the article is somewhat biased.

How different is the perspective of hackers on a globalised scale?

Amy Gibbons

There is a common view of hackers being young and beginning to get into the business of hacking from their own homes whilst ‘messing around’ on their computers. The media can also depict them in this way until it escalates onto a globalised scale where not only companies but whole countries are at risk of being the victim of cybercrime from a different country. This is what the NBC news article becomes significant in understanding how the media depicts hackers when the cybercrime is on a vast scale.

Typically hackers are depicted as criminals as hacking becomes a criminal offence when a criminal act has taken place for example, the theft of people’s identity or acting upon the information they have about someone like their bank details with the aim to take money from them or pay for goods. The NBC news article does depict hackers as criminals including the one that is mentioned a young 17 year-old boy from St Petersburg. Yet the article also depicts hackers as being ‘skilled’ because of the cybercrime being on a larger scale than most cybercrime.

This is very different view to how hackers are normally depicted and it also brings in confusion with the article. The article discusses how Russia is attacking America through cybercrimes yet the depiction is not degrading of the hackers, it is saying that they are ‘skilled’ and their acts are not seen as being a serious crime. The article is more understanding of why hackers essentially hack and commit these types of acts rather than depicting them as criminals who need to be stopped.

Another interesting part of the article is that Russian hackers only get prosecuted if they commit cybercrime in Russia. This is unusual because on a globalised scale hackers should be able to be prosecuted globally even though this is arguable. Also this article does not fit in with the reading by Finch (2007) with how identity theft and fraud is not linked with the internet as the internet can create and leave loopholes open for identity theft and fraud to be easily committed.

Overall, the concept of cybercrime becoming globalised is a large threat to countries across the world. Yet there is little that can be done about cybercrime and hackers even on a smaller scale. As mentioned in the article, hackers can always find a loophole to keep themselves anonymous and untraceable. This means that the depiction of hackers being ‘skilled’ is arguably correct because of the globalised scale of their cybercrimes but they will initially be committing criminal acts therefore the depiction of hackers is their defining nature of what they do and who they are.

Hackers steal £29m in ATM Heist.

Gino Ofori-Buahin

This is the article I have read, I am very shocked as to what I have read and very curious to know how they were able to get away with this much of money that they were taking for so long. They were stealing money more than the bankers. This would’ve involved a lot of planning and organising just getting that many people using the card at the same time is crazy. The fact that they were ‘gang members’ who have hacked into credit cards within 27 different countries adds to my astonishment. “In one of the two attacks, £26m ($40m) was raided from cashpoints across 24 countries in just over 10 hours – through a total of 36,000 transactions”. That statement alone has left me gobsmacked and amazed, so it makes me wonder how did they do it? Is there not enough security within banks? Is there no secure protection for our accounts? Could we then be victims in the future? According to this article they were able to break into the computers of two credit card processors, one in India in December 2012 and the other in the United States this February. However the companies were not identified. My opinion on this matter is that this is genius even though it is a crime, whereas it took brains to execute this from the mastermind behind this responsible. So instead of using what he done to commit a crime if he developed his ideas into something else that doesn’t break the law who knows he could’ve been a millionaire in the right way! The genius behind this is their ability in how to use technology to their advantage to perform this. This technology in the hands of the people not merely government or big corporations.

The media, social networking sites and cybercrime

Hannah Ellen

When looking at the article from the daily mail, hackers are viewed in a certain way within the world of media. For example, hackers are labelled badly within the media for the criminal acts that they commit. There is a certain image of hackers which is probably considered to be much higher than the reality of hackers; this is because of the media and moral panic which is created around this issue.

Social networking sites can add to this moral panic. For example, Facebook have been considered a large way in which hackers use this to hack into peoples accounts and gain their personal and private information. This allows people to gain access to your own personal details which shouldn’t be shared with others. Through gaining access to your profile on Facebook, they have all of the information you have added over the year to your profile, picture of you, even your phone number and access to certain places you have visited as the settings allocation will allow Facebook to allocate where you are and inform everyone. This could then give out personal information like your home address or favourite places you regularly go.  It’s so easy nowadays for someone to create an account taking your name, picture and personal information like date of birth and using this, they take your identity.

Although on the other hand when looking at an article online, Facebook was seen to help FBI agents into catching some hackers. The article states that in December 2012, Facebook helped to catch an international hacking ring which stole more than £525 million from unsuspected computer users. The gang was said to have infected 11 million computers with the spyware that allowed them to steal credit card numbers and bank details which lead to this being one of the largest cybercrime hauls in history. I found this article interesting as it shows that through having Facebook which is seen as a large part of cybercrime, this article shows that not only is it helped to stop the hackers from stealing any details from the users of Facebook but its help find the hackers. They were found from the help of the Facebook security team.

This links to the reading by Finch (2007) as the contribution of the internet to identity fraud is straightforward. It can make it a whole lot easier for someone to steal someone else identity, for example Facebook or allow hackers to use their skills to gain access to peoples personal information in order to commit identity theft.

Therefore cybercrime is a difficult concept to define and when looking at the articles I have found some positive points about social networking sites and how they have helped in order to help put a stop to hacking and cybercrimes.

Hackers, Cryptology and the Digital Generation

Hacking and the ironies of cyber literacy

Chris Saker

Despite the internet being commercialised for all to use since the mid-nineties, hacking has been a problem from the very start of the Internet’s birth. Children born in the nineties have grown up in an ‘electronic age’ where using a computer has become a primary skill which gets taught in early primary education. Since then, their knowledge on the World Wide Web and universally applicable software far outweighs the generations before. As children can bear information much quicker than adults, this is a skill they will have for life. It’s concerning that more and more children from the past years have learned how to use a computer over other key skills such as riding a bike or learning how to swim. Are we setting up our children to become potential hackers? After all, it is all they know.

The national curriculum states that children at a primary school level must learn how to use algorithms. Such a word I would not have dreamed of having an understanding of when I was a child. Understandably, it would be taught at a hugely simpler level than I may be making out – as I remember putting demands into a computer when I was in primary school and watching the wee robot on the floor move the way I told it too – but this level of computing jargon is something that I would not have thought children are at all interested in. Another key term for early computing studies is debugging: finding mistakes in your algorithm and removing them. If we are teaching our children how to remove information from an algorithm, what’s to stop them from building on their knowledge and end up many years down the line removing people’s financial information from an email that they’ve been taught how to access? Retrieving digital content can easily lead up to such ordeals, and they will see no harm in what they’ve done. Cybercrime is indefinitely a social construct, and if we were to label hackers as criminals, then why does the national curriculum insist that we teach children these skills? I see nothing wrong in having an hour long lesson on the computer playing on paint and making a colourful masterpiece, not learning terminology that even my parents haven’t heard of before.

There are countless teenage hackers in the world, and it is not surprising in the slightest. One of which goes by the name of DJ Stolen, an eighteen year old hacker who had the capability of hacking into several personal computers owned by huge music titans such as Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake and Mariah Carey. He stole hundreds of unreleased music own by the artists and even stole private images from the celebrities. All within two years without detection, he sold the private collection he gained online to keen buyers. Not using anything but the information he has previously been taught and building on his knowledge from there, his punishment after being caught was therapy for being addicted to the internet.

It seems that people are unaware of the fact that if you teach a child to do something, you expect them to do it. No one goes to football lessons that do not want to learn football skills and even possibly go on to do it as a profession. This is no different, a child interested in computers and how they work have every right to grow up and become a hacker. So why does it go punished and why label them as criminal? There is a notorious saying “you cannot kill what you have created” which I feel works beautifully here. It is no surprise that being a hacker is something that young people take up; after all, they were taught how to do it.

Password, please: encrypted selves

Harry Paterson

Everyone and everything today wants a password, they want your personal information, your gender and age for example, they also want a different password or a memorable word like the name of your first pet or your favourite colour in case you forget your other password or to take you through extra security. However these passwords are not the same for everything they have to be different to protect yourself against identity theft, if one gets found out then at least they won’t have access to all the others. Password criteria is very different from one place to another, some need to be at least 6 characters long and that’s it. Others however are not so easy to remember, they need to be changed on a frequent basis say every month or two, they need to contain letters and numbers, some in capitals and some not and a few symbols for good measure.

I have at least 8 different passwords that I have to remember on a daily/weekly basis. If I want to go to work or Uni, or if I want to buy something or if I want to check my bank balance or pay a bill I need a username, a password and another password just in case. Even if someone rings me I have to tell them all my personal information before they will even tell me why they are calling me! And in most cases the point of their call is of no interest to me.  Everything online needs to be protected by a password which is unique to you that you must remember and cannot be the same as another password and whatever you do don’t write it down as some bad person may find it and book holiday to Barbados and you will have no sun tan to show for it. If you receive a letter which contains the characters that make up your name, show your shoe size, or contains your first pets name this must be immediately shredded or locked in vault under your bed to ensure the bad man does not go to Barbados again!

Cyber space or outer space?

Naomi Kreeger

‘Cybercrime hits more than 9 million UK web users’ is just one article form the Guardian. The scope of technology and cyberspce has widened and many people today frequently use the internet. As more people use the internet, especially social media sites the risk of cybercrime has perhaps increased. It makes you consider what information is shared online, what you reveal about your personal life and identity. How ‘safe’ is your information?

There is a phrase ‘It must be true I’ve seen it on facebook’ which is perhaps ironically scary as a lot of people will share everything on facebook from photos, to relationship status, to where you live or what university you go to. But the question is who sees this information that is shared?  The likelihood is that most users reveal at least a few bits of personal information just in there profile alone, especially full name and date of birth. Identity theft is now becoming increasingly common, with more people pretending to be someone else. Yet this is made simpler because of the increased amount of information that is put online. Thieves can find ways to access bank accounts, emails, facebook or anything with personal details.

Cybercrime is such a complex concept as it is hard to prevent, detect and control. The detached nature of victim and offender over cyberspace creates more complexity as it could be considered somewhat a ‘fake reality’. The world of cyberspace is an out of space reality that creates negative power relations and activities that we may be at a greater risk of encountering. I’m sure most people have experienced an odd email from a supposed friends email account, and then a confirmation that there friends emails were hacked, showing the scope of cybercrime. It is not alien to most people but something they must be aware and cautious of.

 (cyber)-identity and the presentation of self?

Cyber-varieties of self

Chris Carr

Our personal information is everywhere, it can be on your computer, your phone or even a company data base you have never even dealt with or heard of. That’s not the worrying thing though, what concerns me is who actually has access to everything about me? And what, more importantly, can they do with this information.

I wonder sometimes how many Chris Carr’s are living under my identity, poor souls, but what mischief might they be getting up to? The greater concern is how will this affect my credit rating, employment or even my criminal record?
It sounds a little far-fetched but thinking about how many pop up adverts on Facebook are directly linked to something I may be interested in or parts of my identity, how many phishing emails that look official from a bank I use do I receive?
It only takes one drunken night, while searching the internet for cool stuff to buy or get for free to accidently input card details on the wrong site while trying to buy something looks amazing.

If you have ever applied for a pay day loan you will know that even though you specifically tick the box that says ‘DO NOT PASS ON MY DETAILS’ the next few weeks will be hell with roughly 85, 000 calls a day from people companies who have every detail about you plus letters and emails from anything from Hormone Replacement Tablets to time shares in Spain, of which I think I’m ok without either.

For that matter, what isn’t there out there that is known about me, my medical records, my education, national insurance and police record (which is blank I may add) are computerised and accessible on many different institutional levels. My worry then is, is it really that hard for anyone, if they really wanted, to access this sort of information in an illegal manner and would I ever know?

Perhaps my concerns aren’t that far-fetched after all and there may be other Chris Carr’s walking about with my details and trying to use my identity. I’m curious to whether they have developed my identity, replied to those spam emails and actually have a nice timeshare in Spain, I wonder if….I could stay there sometime, after all, it is technically mine.

Apple mobile devices at risk of hacking?

Ana Slezinger

The Media has a huge impact on people lives. In my opinion, everything that is advertised by the Media it can have a false identity. The Guardian article shows the significant of mobile phones which are advertised but also creates cybercrime. Phones, tablets and music players are the most popular nowadays. Because they are so well spread there are used in restaurants, pubs where people have the trust to use them with the wireless of the local without knowing that someone else can access their personal details. Privacy is revealed.

I think that using Facebook, yahoo, Gmail is a risk. Such, as ‘secure’ privacy does not exist. The majority of people use these types of networks which reveal people private information. Cybercrime is present everywhere in the Media. People, such as hackers, can get access to different information from these sites. As, it is argued, by the article the software can fail authenticity. I think that property it can be an issue for this point. People own their phones or tablets but in what extent do they own their personal live? That is a question that it has to be taken into account.

Cybercrime is manifested in different ways. It just depends how considered legal or illegal is. It can just rely on people believes. The world is surrounded by technology where everybody can get access to it which, also, it can forbid. The phenomena of hacking can happen to everyone. It can only take a minute or much more. Some people can suffer from this experience.

Social media: never be too careful

Emma Grassie

It seems nowadays that everybody, from adolescents’ right through to the elderly, have some form of social media and networking. Whether this be through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn or many others. Unfortunately, as useful as these devices may be, in terms of keeping in touch with others, informing others of events etc., they also have many underlying issues and risks for all involved.

The risks that may arise from social networking in today’s society have now reached an all-time high, with everything from explicit images being easily attainable and heightened levels of child pornography being uncovered, the internet and social network sites are becoming increasingly worrying. This is especially true for parents of young children, entering their teenage years.

The social media site of Facebook currently insists that a person must be 14 years or over to have an account. This is done by the company to promote safety and reduce any risks to children of younger ages. However, does not stop children, who are not yet 14, from having an account, as it is easy enough to enter a fake birth date and their parents email address. This of course can bring about many risks, for both the child and the family/family home. This can be done through the child’s naivety, as they wouldn’t think twice about telling someone they may not know outside of the virtual world of Facebook, their home address, their school, or any other personal information that the parents would not wish the person to know. Other risks that children may face, in such websites, include being groomed or harassed.

Risks of social media and social networking can also effect the other end of the spectrum, the elderly. For example, crimes such as fraud and theft can also take place over such sites, where people befriend the elderly to scam them. These elderly people may only have Facebook etc., in order to keep in contact with relatives or people who live far away. Through befriending them, the thieves can trick the older people into giving them important information, such as bank details etc.

These details that we so willingly share on social media sites, such as our email addresses, birth dates, gender, all leave us at risk of many different crimes being committed against us, such as identity theft and scamming. When entering details, such as these, onto online forms to set up accounts or buy things, our email addresses are often passed onto ‘third parties’, meaning the likelihood of scamming, or being sent virus’ via email are increased. These virus’ once in your computer, can lead to many other problems, as the hacker has access to your computer and the data stored on it, from an external place.

Even though when collating these risks together to highlight how easy it would be to be hacked via a form of social media, networking and online websites such as Facebook, Twitter etc., are even more popular today, than they ever have been. Obvious measures have been put in place, on many forms of social media, to try to prevent any obscene and illegal activity from happening, such as fraud, hacking and child pornography, through the changing of one’s personal settings for the account. For example, Facebook allows the user to only show private information to the ‘friends’ of the person, rather than everyone on the social media site. However, as with anything on the internet, many things are still available, that may not be legal or appropriate for an adolescent to see.

Unfortunately I believe that these risks will never leave such sites, due to the enormity they have around the world in today’s society. In fact the likelihood is, that the dangers will become greater over the years, as people become more and more technologically advanced.

Having said this, there are of course many people around the world who have active Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn accounts, that have never and will probably never suffer from any form of problems due to these risks….. But we can never be too careful!

My media, my risk?

Brunelle Bonsu

I currently have an iphone, which has various apps such as: banking apps, shopping apps like asos, amazon, eBay etc. I tend to use these different apps for different activities, whether it’s purchasing an item, or even making money transfers via mobile banking. Using these apps requires a lot of my personal information like my bank details, address etc, and I am aware that hackers can easily access my personal information. With the fast growing of the internet, majority of internet users tend to access internet through their mobile devices. Nowadays, majority of people living in the UK utilises smartphones for various reasons, whether it’s to make calls, check emails, check account balance, take “selfies” or shop on the go. Some might even access corporate networks to view documents on their phones.

With wireless devices becoming increasingly popular in our daily lives, they open the door to security ricks, these devices are more breached than personal computers because many consumers fail to secure their phones with password protection, or even fail to secure their smartphones with antivirus software. As a result these devices become points of access to cybercriminals. Cyberspaces take over the main domains of modern life, the commodification of surveillance and security means that people are constantly tracked and constantly encoded into digital systems. As a result, theorists such as Becks argue that this is a consequence of a risk society.

There are so many advantages with improved technology in our daily life. With the help of mobile technology we are able to interact with our relatives and friends who are living far from us. With the help of internet, we are able to learn new things, such as shopping online, viewing documents, checking account balance and so on. On the other hand, there are instances which show the problems with improved and advanced technology or the solution for one problem with the help of technology is giving rise to another problem. The internet is full of secrets, and hackers can now easily gain access to personal information about people.

Technology has both positive and negative sides. We are the deciders and we have to choose how to use it. The usage of technology for over exploitation of resources should be always avoided. If we use it for positive things and keep our information private, for example securing mobile devices with password protection etc, it will have positive effect of our lives and prevent hackers from hacking mobile devices. Nobody would oppose the development of technologies in any sector but the developments should be in a positive way and they should not have any negative impact on present or future generations.

Facebooking and how much to share

Emma Cheesman

When Facebook was first created in 2004, it was hit from the very start, 10 years later it is still as successful as ever.

Its many positive points include the fact that it provides a free and easy way to remain in contact with friends and family all over the world. You are able to share pretty much anything and everything with those connected to your profile but if you’re not careful, you can end up leaving your private information on show for any Tom, Dick or Harry to read at their leisure.

It is a well-known fact that people nowadays like to post absolutely everything they can about themselves on Facebook, from simple things such as age, name, gender etc. to where they work, where they live and contact details such as email addresses and telephone numbers. Whilst this makes it easy for your friends and family to recognise that they have found the right ‘John Smith’ for example, it is also making it incredibly easy for someone else to come along and impersonate you. Such hackers can easily convince everybody on your friends list that you had to create a new account, leading to them deleting the real John Smith account in favour of your ‘new’ one.  Once this has happened, they are free to right anything they want about you and others you know, which can have serious consequences. You could lose your job. You could lose your money. Your friends and family could lose their money.

The very fact that Facebook is a social network means that potential hackers have access to not only your information, but everyone you are friends with on Facebook and everyone they are friends on Facebook with and so on, meaning they can reach a large number of people both quickly and easily. And that is a scary thought.

It’s not just hackers that us Facebook users have to look out for either, paedophiles also roam this site in search of potential victims. The anonymity of the internet means that there is always some doubt as to whether the person you’re speaking to online is who they say they are. It is far too easy for someone to create a fake account, altering the details to suit who it they’re after and use this to their advantage. Most worryingly, in regards to paedophilia, is the large number of children who now have access to sites such as Facebook, who are too trusting in who they talk to online. They may think that they are talking to another child, who shares all the interests and seems to really understand them, thus making them willing to share personal and trivial information, such as where they go to school and where they live, as well as their full name which cannot be hidden on Facebook, when in reality it’s actually a 40-year-old man who cares little about how their day was, but now know their exact location. Again, this is another worrying thought.

It’s not just identity theft that is an issue on Facebook. With the large number of links that people are sharing, it is almost impossible to distinguish between those which are legitimate and those which have been created for the sole purpose of accessing your details or gaining control of your computer, allowing them to see all our searches and any data you may type whilst online such as bank details. It is also quick and easy way to spread viruses without leaving a trace of who is to blame.

So in all honesty, despite the many positives that we concentrate on when using this social networking site, there is a much darker side which most of us choose to ignore. As soon as you make that decision to click ‘create account’, you are taking a risk. By choice.  If you are willing to share your personal details online, then you must be willing to deal with the consequences, if and when they turn up.  Unfortunately, when taking this risk, the majority of us are not aware that these consequences exist.

I do not wish to discourage people from the use of social networking sites such as Facebook, far from it. I too am an avid Facebook user, but I simply wish to bring to your attention the dangers that such use creates, allowing you to reconsider your use of the site, or at least distinguish between the information you are able to share and the information that should remain private and hidden.

Meeting IRL: a how to guide

Fiona Kinghorn

Throughout the media there are many stories about the danger of meeting people through the Internet; people have been reported missing as a result of online meetings and Internet ‘scams’ are reportedly on the rise. As a result of these outcomes there are many ‘how to’ guides about meeting people online with tips such as not putting too much personal information on social networking pages, arranging to meet in a public place, and to bring another person with you for safety. I find these guides interesting as I myself have met people online and then proceeded to meet them ‘in real life’; I first met Michelle and Lucy through an Internet message forum that was dedicated to a musical artist who we were all a fan of and within a year we had met in person. Due to my young age at the time I took many of these precautions when I first started talking to them; my name on the message forum was fake and the most personal information that I gave about myself was my age and that I was from North London (nothing too specific). As we spoke more and more I gave them my Twitter account which was under the same fake name, I had made this account with the sole person of talking to them and other fans of this certain musician; I had created a new identity for myself. I trusted them as they were in fact more forthcoming with information about themselves than I was, for example I had seen their Facebook accounts, knowing their full names and what they looked like before they knew the same things about me. It wasn’t until the day before we met at a gig in Central London that I told them my real name and gave them my phone number in order to arrange to meet; because I already knew what they looked like when I saw them I immediately went up to them due to my prior knowledge of their appearances. I understand that there are many risks about meeting people online but I feel that I took the necessary precautions and stayed safe though I do realise that the outcome could’ve been very different.

Personal information and online vulnerability.

Rebekah Guy

You, your information and the websites we are all using are vulnerable. Fact.

Every website has its vulnerable points which make a hacker’s job even easier; this is true also for the places in which all of our personal information is stored. All the information you input in order to use sites such as email, Facebook, eBay etc. is stored in servers on databases, which are, in effect, able to build a complete picture of someone’s life. Right down to all the google searches and websites you have visited.

Take Facebook for instance, a couple of the features appear to have a fundamental floor according to hackers. This error in coding allows hackers to access and control another person’s web browser, stored xss effectively replaces the links within Facebook and allows a programme to execute on the victims computer.

A mobile phone is just as vulnerable; the University of Minnesota conducted a study in which they uncovered a fundamental flaw in the US GSM service which allowed hackers to ‘perform location tests on a victim’s device’. They later explain the ease with which this was possible ‘We demonstrated our attacks using cheap hardware and open source projects and showed mapping techniques to supplement cell tower databases to a granularity acceptable for our attacks’ (Kune and Koelndorfer et al., 2012)

Whatsapp is another popular programme with around 385 million active users, however ‘researchers found that WhatsApp is vulnerable to Man-in-the Middle attack because the app has not enforced SSL pinning and hence user credentials can be easily stolen’ (Kumar, 2014)

The idea of this short piece is to introduce you to the world of vulnerable websites as well as how vulnerable your own personal information is. Perhaps next time, you’ll think twice before you answer all the questions on that online form?

What is the risk of our online profiles?

Laura Buxton

Facebook, Instagram, twitter and more know more about you than anyone else. We willingly offer up information about ourselves, our actions, likes and dislikes and so much more into “cyberspace” where we probably naively assume that there are no risks to this aspect of our society today. In fact, Facebook profiles hold our birthdays, sexual orientation, locations, religion, friendships and so much more about us PLUS we offer up additional information about how our day has been, how we are feeling and that we had a really great time at the gym in your local town. We know therefore that our friend on these social media sites goes to the gym on Wednesdays for example for a spin class or that that random man that added you as a friend goes to that gym too and has got your mobile number from your profile and knows what you look like, how you wear your hair and which shampoo you use. There are so many risks to how much information you put out there. For example as shown on the MTV Programme “Catfish” someone can literally tailor make a “person” from thin air that likes similar things to you, goes to the same hairdressers and has a mutual friend that becomes your everything with your ideal blue eyes and beach blonde hair… But they’re secretly a fat middle aged man who still lives with his mother and stalks you a little bit. Our information becomes his tool, our information becomes his bible and our information becomes his storybook. But surely he can’t do that because you didn’t mean for him to know where you shop on a Friday night or that you really hate rainy Mondays but this is where the risk lies. You willingly put information onto social media sites. Willingly. So that your best friend knows you love her and that ex-boyfriend knows you have moved on. Information you put out there is no longer yours. It is everyone’s. There is an underlying risk with anything you put on social media. The risk that a paedophile will see your daughter’s first baby picture, risk that someone will use all of your characteristics and personality traits in a new profile to try and attract another person and risk that information could be misconstrued for something other than what you meant it for. You wouldn’t proclaim at the top of your voice that the man sitting opposite from you on the train smells like cheese and cat food, but why put it online? This eliminates the risk of you getting punched in the face by said cheesy man but adds the risk that your employer sees it and brings you into his office to talk about how you conduct yourself outside of work. It’s a risky business this internet malarkey.

How my life could be stolen and why that matters for definitions of ‘the self’?

Maria Keane

We have a generation of people who paint an image of themselves on the internet, through blogging and social networking sites such as Tumblr, Facebook and Twitter we’re constantly discussing who we are, what we’re doing and how we feel about something; all of the things which define who we are. Our opinions on matters, how we enjoy spending our free time and what it is we do on a day-to-day basis, our actions are what make us who we are. The image of our ‘self’ has now become an image that we paint for ourselves on social networking, how it is we want other people to perceive us. In a way our identity has now been shifted to being about how we want other people to see us. If I take myself as an example you don’t even need to know me personally to know a lot about me, just by looking at my Facebook and Instagram a story can be painted about me, I’m a young girl who lives in a cottage in the countryside, who enjoys cooking so much that I put images of my creations on social networking, I cycle 12 miles into the city daily where I then study a Sociology degree at CCCU. I work a part-time job and enjoy movie nights eating whole tubs of ice cream in one sitting. This is the image of me which I have put out there. My life, and ‘self’ is out there as I desire it to be. The majority of today’s generation also do the same. We pick and choose what we put about ourselves on the internet, every time we write a bio about ourselves we are choosing what we want others to know about us.

Now imagine for a moment that this image you’ve created of yourself is stolen from you, someone hacks and changes what you put about yourself, or someone creates accounts pretending to you, painting a different, undesirable image of you. Creating a you, which is not you. People start to see you as undesirable. “Our identity therefore originates not from inside the person, but from the social realm, a realm where people swim in a sea of language and other signs, a sea that is invisible to us because it is the very medium of our existence as social beings. (Burr, 2003: 108-9)”. In current times employers are using social networking more and more to track their employees, not only because they want to make sure that they employ people who will reflect upon their company well but also because the image which someone paints of themselves online is often different to the professional one which is painted on their CV. From this stance, if someone ‘steals your identity’, putting undesirable information about you on the internet this could be really damaging in the view that anyone could then access this information, forming an undesirable opinion of you which could end badly, losing your job, preventing you from getting one. After all, once something is out there in the realm of the ‘world wide web’ it can never be deleted again. People can gain so much information about you simply by ‘googling’ your name and it can be very unnerving for a complete stranger to have such information. If our own information got into the wrong hands and used vindictively it would destroy us. We rely on our online image and it is well known that young people have taken their lives due to online bullying, which is often the misuse of information, hacking of accounts, false accusations, causing much despair for the victim. Who we are, our ‘self’ can be destroyed with vicious misuse of the internet. So we have to think to ourselves, how important is it that we encourage in social networking? With every image we upload, with every Facebook status we post we are putting ourselves at risk, making ourselves vulnerable for the sake of an image. Ask yourself, is the picture you’ve created on your Facebook, REALLY an accurate representation of who you are? And if yes, are you happy for everyone in the world to see you like that? Now, as well as in 10 years times when you’re in a professional job and children?

Striking a balance with cyber selves

Patrice Ledgister

The internet has many advantages and disadvantages, for example the use of e-mail , the ability to send and receive instant electronic messages, which  saves a lot  of time,  unlike traditional mail that takes a lot of time. However, computers have allowed for your personal Information such as your name and address can be accessed by other people.  What was once a new and interesting way of communicating and finding out information, to some extent is now misused for illegal activity such as , credit card fraud, spams, software piracy and so on, which invade our privacy.

Nandini Ramprasad in series for the benefit of our netizens. suggested that “The modern thief can steal more with a computer than with a gun. Tomorrow’s terrorist may be able to do more damage with a keyboard than with a bomb”. Cybercrime is a criminal activity committed on the internet. This is a broad term that describes everything from electronic cracking to denial of service attacks that cause electronic commerce sites to lose money. So why do people use social media such as Facebook.

People who have a Facebook account use it go get in touch with other individuals despite the distance and lack of time. Social Networks are designed to mimic real-life networking. You can share as little or as much information as you please it allow s for people that are very reserved and rarely share any personal information. Thus, people should the level of personal information on social networks if their goal is to engage an audience.

However, a balance must be achieved so that you don’t put yourself at risk. Facebook has been a great community for many people, it has its advantages such as the ability to help people link together and help with long distance relationships, nonetheless some use it to stalk and escape reality by creating fake profiles. For example  Some take it as far as joining virtual words such as ‘second life’,  ‘imvu’ and ‘Moove’ that allow for people to create a fake life to escape the reality that they live in , this allows  or individuals to  Dress up your 3D avatar for online chat in your own 3D chat rooms in the virtual world. Furnish your virtual 3D rooms, decorate with your pictures – with Webcam, voice, full control. Match & meet friends for 3D chat.

The internet has now opened the door for many to escape the reality that they live in and use it as an playground.

Sovereignty & Wiki-Leaks

Not guilty

Rebecca Andries

WikiLeaks is known for producing information on the web about companies or scandals that have happened in the big corporations. In 2010, Julian Assange the founder of Wiki-leaks published US data which was highly confidential and caused outrage amongst many countries. There has always been a question/debate on whether what WikiLeaks produced was criminal or not. Personally, I believe this topic to be very controversial and I hold strong views on this as I believe that what WikiLeaks done was not criminal as being a citizen in society I would want to know what the organisations above me are doing. Yet at the same time I believe that it is criminal only by the way they have gone around it. This leads onto the articles in the Independent (2010) ‘The Wiki-leaks scandal is more than just a diplomatic scuffles; it’s a war for the future of the Internet’ this articles states ‘Wii-leaks has put its head above the parapet, myriad spontaneous groups are emerging…not taking Authoritarianism lying down’. It seems to me that they power groups and big influences in society are the ones that are making out that everything they own doesn’t belong to anyone else but couldn’t it be questioned that ‘If we are all working alongside each other in society, such as workers for managers then shouldn’t we be able to share and look at the information?’ It seems that everything just comes down to ‘private property’ which stems from Marx in which he believes that it is only private property if it makes us money and can be put through to definite use.

I believe that certain people in society are just making things into just being their own property and not working together in a collective conscious (Durkheim), but if the powerful people are making the data confidential and no one can access it, does that mean people who give the data/are in the data (normal working class) have no say and can’t see what’s happening with their information? Does that make the powerful people criminal as they’re withholding information that WikiLeaks (could be heroes, as providing us) as what WikiLeaks done wasn’t for financial/personal gain it was for ‘serving the community’. It kind of makes me think that the government are trying to place the blame elsewhere. Surely, due to the ‘private property’ which is absurd as it is only out there for the big companies and those with power who WERE seen as illegal before the ‘private property’  shouldn’t they still be classified as illegal, just because of the ‘private property’ doesn’t mean anything in my opinion.

Furthermore, in The Independent article (2010) they describe the hackers as “troublemakers and technophiles, angry, porn obsessed adolescents”, which is ridiculous, we shouldn’t judge these people they’re providing the working class with information that is rightfully theirs to a certain extent. Yes, it may produce complications for terrorists accessing the information and other security risks but the information they do produce doesn’t affect the ‘normal’ working class in society just the big corporations and the corrupt world, which we don’t focus on.

To conclude, I believe WikiLeaks hasn’t done anything wrong as old school hackers like Steve Jobs have produced products such as the iPhone which is use in society today and will continue to do so in the future. So, the real question should be ‘Due to this big deal of WikiLeaks, what are the government actually hiding from us?’

What is behind closed doors?

            Jayren Dempsey

The debate regarding whether Julian Assange’s attempt to reveal potential governmental misdemeanours remains highly contested. Not just on the surface where the perspectives of freedom and national security wage war on the subject but underneath where a deep questions are now being asked about the sanctity of liberal nations and it’s leaders contradicting the values and laws they emit on a daily basis.

Ever since the turn of the 21st century general concerns about cybercrime have sky rocketed and not just within the average member of public but governments to. With this very 21st Century surge in new ‘criminal activity’ legal and penal guidelines are in a constant state of flux in order to remain in line with the criminal phenomenon. But before any sort of attempt to pick a side is made, it’s important to assess how crime is currently considered in today’s complex, pluralistic, late modern societies. Crime in the 21st century generally fits the label of an action or omission which constitutes an offence and is punishable by law, but this becomes more problematic when questions are asked about what should be considered a crime. I think it is this question which makes the WikiLeaks debate so difficult to fully conceptualize and for opposing sides of the argument to accept.

The reasoning behind this is that there is no true way of knowing who to believe. Are the uber-liberal activists who strive for their governments, who regularly babble on about freedom to stop withholding information which could prove harmful to individuals in power the ones to trust as they are championing the pursuit of the common good? Or is the potential threat to national security too great to allow unregulated information to be passed into public knowledge. Not to suggest that all of the leaks Assange poured into the public sphere could have presented a threat, nevertheless it would be difficult to suggest that there is no danger in releasing this information. However, despite this, it is evident that many were horrified by the recording in regards to the 12th July Baghdad airstrike in 2007, which evidently showed a complete disregard for human decency at the same time as portraying the image of protecting those who cannot protect themselves.  It’s safe to say that although some would have never wanted images like this splashed over the media. Many of those in positions of power were forced to mirror public outrage. This then creates an even more complex argument, as governments can’t be seen to have double standards when it comes to branding criminal activity due to a multitude of reasons leaving us with the troubling conundrum of picking sides.

Ultimately I wouldn’t class WikiLeaks as criminal, but at the same time there practise presents a scary realisation that most of us will rarely truly know the truth about what our governments actually get up to behind closed doors.

Against the machine

Hannah Page

Fuck the government. All government official business should be open to the public as the government is meant to act on the people’s behalf. Revealing a truth, of whatever nature cannot be a crime. The crime is the lie itself. To cover the truth from the people you are representing should be criminal. Especially if the people you are representing is a country.

‘WikiLeaks’ has been presented as criminal as it opposes, undermines and shames the powerful. But I did hear he is a rapist (Julian Assange) which I do not condone and quite rightly, the media and government have used this to discredit his character. However, this does not discredit the information he freed to the public, nor make it any less true.


The Catfish

Alice Rowe

A catfish on the Internet is someone who pretends to be someone they are not, usually on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. They create false identities often to pursue deceptive online romances. With social media sites rapidly growing ever more popular, catfishing can take place on multiple platforms and it is often hard to recognise when someone is a catfish. Often these people do not just create one false identity but construct a whole social circle to trick the person they are pursuing into believing it is real. This can happen over a very long period of time and motivations behind catfishing range from revenge to loneliness and boredom.

Catfishing can be seen as a form of identity theft online due to someone often taking someone else’s photos from social media sights as Facebook, but then developing that identity further to suit their uses. This is often done to gain the attention of the person they are trying to communicate with and to portray an identity of someone they wish they were. People’s real profile photos on sites such as Facebook are often used by others, sometimes also their names, for fake profiles without them knowing. Sometimes even whole albums of photos are used to help the catfish create this reality of theirs. A popular media example of this occurrence is the film ‘Catfish’ which showed Yaniv (Nev) Schulman being filmed by his brother and friend during the start of an online relationship with a girl he had never met before called Meagan. However, during the filming Meagan’s stories and information she gives Nev do not seem to add up such as he finds the exact ‘songs’ she has recorded for him on YouTube which were performed by someone else. In the end it turns out ‘Meagan’ was made up by a woman, called Angela, who is a wife with two children and who took a woman called Aimee Gonzales online profile pictures, as well as others, without them knowing and created a whole fake community of family and friends to get into a fake relationship with Nev. After the filming of this, Nev teamed up with MTV and in 2012 aired the first episode of a series called ‘Catfish: The TV Show’ in America which looked at people in relationships online with others they had never met and follows them to see if the person is a catfish or actually the person they state they are online. More often than not they do turn out to be a Catfish. The show has proved very popular and is in its second season.

This is one extreme case of identity theft happening on the Internet. However it seems to be occurring to a lot more people especially with the increase in new social media platforms where others have easy and global access to people’s information and identities often without that person knowing.

Catfish, A new type of social media identity theft.

Ellie Bissell

A ‘Catfish’ is defined under the urban dictionary as ‘someone who pretends to be someone they’re not, using Facebook or other social media to create false identities, particularly to pursue deceptive online romances.’ The term “catfish” is derived from the title of a 2010 documentary film, in which filmmaker Nev Schulman discovers that, the 20-something woman he’d been carrying on an online relationship with had not been honest in describing herself.

The film shows Nev Schulman’s brother Ariel documenting Nev’s correspondence with Abby Pierce, an eight-year-old child prodigy artist in rural Ishpeming, Michigan. Abby sends Nev a painting of one of his photos and they become Facebook friends, which broadens to include Abby’s family: including her mother, Angela, husband Vince and Abby’s older half-sister Megan. Nev begins to develop an online relationship with Megan, and after months of talking, Nev travels to meet Megan and Abby.  He is shocked to find that he had never corresponded with Megan at all and that Angela was in fact the Catfish. The title for the film was taken from Vince’s story within the film about cod being shipped to Asia and that Catfish were put into the tanks to keep the fish active and ensuring the quality of the fish. Vince explains that there are people in everyone’s lives who keep us active, always on our toes and always thinking. It is implied that he believes Angela to be such a person.

This type of alternative identity is all too common within cyberspace as we have more opportunities to change how we appear to others and who we have the chance to become. Social networks such as Facebook, twitter and Myspace all provide people with a blank profile in which they can upload any pictures, befriend several unknown people across the world and interact in ways in which we might not be able to physically. The show depicts several peoples journeys to finding out who they are really talking to online, surprising showing how people have formed serious relationships with people they have never met or even physically spoken to.

I find this show very interesting to watch, not just for the entertainment purpose, but to look at how technology has in some ways given us a heightened sense of trust in people we don’t know, yet talk to all the time.  The dangers that stem from this type of identity theft are not only the chance of a failed romance but also a lost in trust and even financially. On one episode we find a man desperately in love with a woman who he has been talking to online for a year, he has even sent her money and pays her bills. We find out that he has in fact been talking to a catfish whose sole purpose was to financially gain from this online relationship and she has trapped several other people too.

This show, like others, illustrates that although we may have 1,000 friends on facebook, very few of us have actually met them all face to face and would actually call them personal ‘friends’.


Kumar, M. 2014. The Hacker News – Latest Cyber Security News: Why You need to Stop using WhatsApp?. [Online] Available at: [Accessed: 25 Feb 2014].

Kune, D. F., Koelndorfer, J., Hopper, N. and Kim, Y. 2012. Location leaks on the GSM Air Interface. ISOC NDSS (Feb 2012).



Agamben, Giorgio (1995), Homo Sacer: sovereign power and bare life, (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press)

Beck, Ulrich, Giddens, Anthony & Lash, Scott (1992), Reflexive Modernisation, (Cambridge: Polity)

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