I was asked this interesting question in a recent cybercrime course:

What do you think society’s perception of cyber-criminals is?”

If I were to sum up what I believe society’s perception of cybercriminals has become, I would surmise it in saying “the honeymoon is over.” During a 2010 survey, Sophos (2010), commented that “…cybercrime has entered a third age, maturing from a geeky hobby and then a money-making enterprise to become a global political, industrial and perhaps even military tool.” Public opinion seems to be following suit, in that the public is becoming more and more aware that it is no longer the lone hacker out for simple mischief or the challenge of hacking past a system’s defenses, but professional rings of thieves who are actively seeking to victimize individuals.

On the other hand, the theft of intellectual property through softlifting, internet piracy, software counterfeiting, and hard disk loading appear to be largely accepted by the majority of individuals around the world. In fact, estimates place global software piracy at more than thirty eight percent (Business Software Alliance, 2008). In some parts of the world, only one out of every ten installations of software are legitimate, while in some places such as the United States, four out of every five installations are legitimate (Business Software Alliance, 2008). Different cultures and subcultures seem to have very different views of intellectual property.

Regardless of how society perceives cybercriminals, or at least those cybercriminals who commit cybercrime for reasons or simple mischief or to test their own abilities, remain a potent asset in the future fight against cybercrime. Specifically, Schmalleger (2009), catagorized hackers into six groups: pioneers, scamps, explorers, game players, vandals, and addicts, none of which could be considered individuals who are outright criminal, but rather mischievous and intelligent individuals holding potential as future assets. Furthermore, Consider Kevin Mitnick, whom at one point in time was arguably the most notorious cybercriminal in the world; Mitnick is now an upstanding author and security consultant (Schmalleger, 2007). Finally, Greenberg (2000), revealed that US Strategic Command was and in all likelihood continues to employ former hackers, whom by definition are cybercriminals.

To round off the discussion, the attitude toward cybercriminals may be that of necessary evil, as the aforementioned Sophos (2010) study found that most respondents were in favor of their nation utilizing cyberespionage and cyberwarfare to obtain or maintain global advantages over other nations.