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How is Choice Theory applicable to cyber-crimes?

 How is Choice Theory applicable to cyber-crimes?

As you begin to answer the question, note the following theoretical dynamics ( APA sections) :

  • Consider the assumptions of other crime causation theories. 
  • Can other theories also be applied to cyber-crime interpretations?
  • Why is it important to utilize crime causation theories to interpret cyber-crimes?
  • Is there a particular theory for cyber-crimes?
    • Why or why not?

Students are expected to critically analyze, evaluate, and report on a cybercrime or cybersecurity topic listed in the Tentative Schedule. The report will be broken down into three different parts referred to as mini-papers (60 points each) 180 total points and will be checked by Turnitin, the plagiarism detection services.  The report must be double-spaced, with 1.0-inch margins, using Times New Roman 12 point type and at least two pages long ( a minimum of 1200 words) to properly answer the question. Of the total works cited ( that is at least three References)  one should be from academic journals or books published by an academic press.  The references should be identified  in APA format and located at the end of each mini paper.  

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Choice Theory

According to choice theory, an individual commits a crime because he or she makes a rational choice to do so by weighing the risks and benefits of committing the act. If the risks (e.g., apprehension and punishment) outweigh the benefits, then the person will not commit the act. The opposite is also true. Choice theory became popular among criminologists in the late 1970s for three reasons. First, the positive school began to be questioned. The positive school was based on the belief that crime-producing traits and factors could be isolated, and treatment could be administered to eliminate or control the trait/factor. However, it was being argued at the time that these factors and traits had failed to be identified and isolated after almost 100 years of effort. Individuals became dissatisfied with the positive school and began to offer alternative reasons for why people commit crime.

Second, the reported crime rate in the 1960s and 1970s increased significantly. This was evidence to some that what was currently being done to control crime was not working. Therefore, some began to look for other means to control the crime rate besides treatment and rehabilitation. Third, the practice of rehabilitation came under attack. 1 In 1974, Robert Martinson wrote an article reviewing 231 studies of prison programs aimed at rehabilitating inmates. Martinson concluded that “with few and isolated exceptions, the rehabilitative efforts that have been reported so far have had no appreciable effect on recidivism.” 2 This finding, which was picked up by the mass media, was used by critics of prison programs to argue against rehabilitation as a primary justification for incarceration. The results of the article are commonly referred to as “nothing works.” Since it appeared that the current efforts had failed, many started to call for a change in judicial policy. Many started to emphasize the need for punishment, not rehabilitation, as the primary reason for incarceration.

Based on these reasons, choice theory and its policy implications became popular. Judicial policy started to change focus, on the offense and not the offender. Choice theory argues that since the offender has made a rational choice to commit the offense, the focus should be on the offense committed, not the offender. Policies such as mandatory sentencing and “three strikes and you’re out laws” are popular and are based on choice theory. The idea is that the way to control crime, including cyber crime, is to have offenders fear the punishment and be deterred from committing the act. Since humans are hedonistic (i.e., maximize pleasure and minimize pain), efforts should be placed on making the risks of committing cyber crime higher than any benefit derived from committing the offenses. Those who support the use of punishment to control crime assume that the offender is making a choice to commit the act and can be deterred if the risks outweigh the benefits.

Quick Facts

An estimated 17.6 million Americans—about 7 percent of U.S. residents age 16 or older—were victims of identity theft in 2014. Most victims (86%) experienced the misuse of an existing credit card or bank account. About 4 percent of victims had their personal information activity stolen and used to open a new account or for other fraudulent activity. Some victims (7%) experienced multiple types of identity theft during the most recent incident.

Routine Activities

Routine activities theory is based on rational choice. Routine activities theory was developed by Lawrence Cohen and Marcus Felson. Cohen and Felson argue that the motivation to commit crime and the supply of offenders are constant. 3 Many would argue that changes in the crime rates are due to changes in the number of motivated offenders. However, Cohen and Felson argue that there is always a steady supply of offenders who are motivated to commit crime: Changes in crime rates are due to changes in the availability of targets and the absence of capable guardians. 4

According to Cohen and Felson, crime occurs when there is a convergence in time and space of three factors:

1. A motivated offender (e.g., a hacker)

2. A suitable target (e.g., a vulnerable computer system)

3. The absence of a capable guardian (e.g., inadequate software protection) 5

All three factors must be present in order for a crime to occur. In sum, when motivated offenders are present, they make rational choices by selecting suitable targets that lack capable guardianship.

This theory can also account for victimization, as victims, in addition to offenders, are the other people involved in a criminal event. Using routine activities theory as the framework, victimization is most likely when individuals are placed in high-risk situations, are in close proximity to motivated offenders, appear to be attractive targets to criminals, and lack a capable guardian. 6 In addition, victims report higher levels of deviant behavior than nonvictims and share demographic characteristics with offenders. 7 Similarly, individuals who engage in criminal and deviant behavior are at an increased risk of victimization. 8 Some of the tenets of routine activities theory, such as close proximity to motivated offenders, are less applicable for cyber crime than other criminal offenses (e.g., aggravated assault).

This theory is applicable to cyber crime because the rapid expansion of the use of computers and the Internet has increased the number of available targets. The millions of computers online at any point in time are all potential targets for hackers or malicious software writers. In addition, the global nature of the Internet means that an offender in Egypt, for example, could hack into hundreds of computer in the United States without ever leaving home.

In addition, without adequate software protection, there is frequently a lack of capable guardians to protect people from cyber crime. Physical guardians are readily available on computer systems through antivirus software, firewalls, and similar programs. 9 These programs are expressly designed to reduce the likelihood of attacks from viruses, worms, and data loss by either scanning and preventing infected files from being introduced to the system or identifying and removing malicious software if it already has infected the system. Thus, physical guardians in cyberspace work similarly to physical guardians in the real world.

One of the first empirical studies testing this theory conducted by Holt and Bossler found that postulates of routine activities theory can be used to account for online harassment. 10 Specifically, routine computer use, including spending more time in online chat rooms, increased the odds of online harassment. Physical guardianship measures, through antivirus programs and other software, had little influence on the likelihood of being harassed while chatting online. There was also a significant influence that personal and peer involvement in deviance had on the risk of online harassment. Engaging in cyber crime can expose individuals to offenders, thereby increasing their risk of victimization.

A similar test of malicious software infection found that spending more time online engaging in shopping, e-mailing, and chatting did not affect the likelihood of receiving a virus or worm. 11 Individuals engaging in media piracy and viewing pornography were at an increased risk of malware infection, largely because these files are attractive packages that many individuals would want to open. Thus, the findings suggest that the relationship between crime and victimization in the real world may be replicated in online environments. Additionally, computer software that has been created specifically to decrease malware victimization had no significant impact in this study. These findings suggest that there may be some considerable utility in the routine activities framework, though greater research is needed to better understand and assess its applicability to cyber crime.


Deterrence Theory

Deterrence theory flows directly from choice theory. The idea is that offenders, including cyber criminals, commit crime because they make a choice to do so. This choice is based on the perceived risks and benefits of committing the criminal act. If the risks (e.g., apprehension and punishment) outweigh the benefits, then the person will not commit the act. The offender will be deterred from committing the criminal act because of the threat of punishment. There are two types of deterrence: general and specific.  General deterrenceseeks to discourage would-be offenders from committing criminal acts because of the threat of punishment. Therefore, general deterrence occurs when would-be offenders choose not to commit a certain act because they fear the sanction that may be imposed. Sometimes offenders are made an example of in order to keep others from committing the same act. For example, an eighteenth-century judge reportedly told a defendant, “You are to be hanged not because you have stolen a sheep but in order that others may not steal sheep.” 12 This is an example of general deterrence.  Specific deterrence is designed to impose a sanction on a convicted offender in order to prevent him or her from continuing to commit criminal acts in the future. In other words, the sanction should be distasteful to the offender so that he or she does not want to commit any more offenses.

There are several assumptions of deterrence theory. First and perhaps the most important assumption is that individuals are rational actors. 13 In other words, offenders weigh the potential risks and benefits of committing a criminal act and then make a conscious decision about whether to commit the offense. As it applies to cyber crime, it can be argued that many cyber criminals are rational actors, making rational choices to commit a computer crime. Second, offenders must be aware of the penalty for particular crimes. 14 As it applies to computer crime, it is argued that many computer criminals do not know the potential penalties they face for particular crimes. Third, they must view the risks as unpleasant. 15 If a computer criminal does not think apprehension and incarceration is unpleasant or if the criminal does not believe he will be caught, then the criminal will not be deterred. Fourth, in order for deterrence to be effective, it is assumed that the sanction is swift, certain, and severe. The sanction must be imposed quickly to have the greatest deterrent effect, and there must be a high probability that a sanction will be imposed. Most computer crimes remain unsolved so there is a low probability of arrest for these offenses, making deterrence unlikely.

However, it is important to keep in mind that it is not the actual certainty, severity, and swiftness of the sanction that serve as a deterrent but the criminal’s perception of the certainty, severity, and swiftness of the sanction. If potential computer criminals believe that the certainty of arrest is high for computer crime, then they will be deterred from committing the offense even if there is little chance of arrest in reality. Likewise, if potential computer criminals perceive prison as a terrible place that they do not want to go to, then they may be deterred from committing offenses. On the other hand, if a computer criminal does not believe that being incarcerated is anything to fear, then the individual is less likely to be deterred. Therefore, if offenders do not believe that the sanctions in court are severe, then they are unlikely to be deterred from committing criminal acts. Likewise, if they do not believe they will be caught, then they perceive a lack of certainty of punishment and thus are likely to commit the crime. The lack of certainty of arrest and punishment is particularly pronounced when it comes to computer crime. There is generally a low risk of apprehension and punishment.

There is minimal evidence to support the argument that the threat of arrest and punishment deters criminals. 16 In fact, evidence supports the contention that informal sanctions from parents and friends serve as more of a deterrent than legal sanctions. 17 In other words, fearing disapproval from your parents and peers for your actions is more likely to keep individuals from committing those acts than the fear of arrest and punishment.

A limited body of research has considered the applicability of deterrence for software and music piracy. Research using samples of college students suggests that the certainty of being caught by an IT administrator or fellow student did not reduce the likelihood of hacking systems without authorization. 18 Severity of punishment, however, helped to reduce the likelihood of hacking activity. 19 The relationship between detection and software piracy is also mixed. For example, one study found that when the certainty of being caught was high, software piracy declined. 20Though there is not much research in this area, deterrence may have some success in accounting for cyber crimes. Further research is needed to better understand this relationship.


Psychological Theories

There are several psychological theories that have been applied to criminal activity. This section will explore the impact of moral development and personality disorders on crime. Moral development theories support the contention that there are differences between the moral beliefs of criminals and noncriminals, while personality disorders argue that there are certain personality characteristics that are predictive of crime.

BOX 3.1 Hacker Targeted Senior U.S. Government Officials

Justin G. Liverman, 24, of Morehead City, North Carolina, pleaded guilty on January 6, 2017, for his role in a harassment scheme that targeted senior U.S. government officials. Liverman’s plea admits guilt to a conspiracy to commit unauthorized computer intrusions, identity theft, and telephone harassment.

According to the statement of facts filed with the plea agreement, beginning in November 2015, Liverman conspired to attempt to intimidate and harass U.S. officials and their families by gaining unauthorized access to victims’ online accounts, among other things. For example, Liverman publicly posted online documents and personal information unlawfully obtained from a victim’s personal account; sent threatening text messages to the same victim’s cell phone; and paid an unlawful “phonebombing” service to call the victim repeatedly with a threatening message. In November 2015, the conspiracy used that victim’s government credentials to gain unlawful access to a confidential federal law enforcement database, where Liverman obtained information relating to dozens of law enforcement officers and uploaded this information to a public Web site.

Which theory do you think applies best to this case?

Moral Development and Crime

The relationship between moral development and crime focuses on cognitive development. Cognitive development theory assumes that individuals develop in a sequential manner. The individual passes through one step in development, then another step, then another, and so on. Kohlberg argues that there are sequential stages in moral reasoning that individuals pass through as they develop. At each stage, the decision of what is right and what is wrong is made for different reasons. Crime, including computer crime, can be explained by arrested development of moral reasoning at certain stages. People stop at a certain stage and do not progress any further.

Kohlberg stated that there are six stages of moral development. They are as follows:

· Stage 1: Punishment and obedience orientation stage—what is right is obedience to power and rules and avoiding punishment

· Stage 2: Hedonistic orientation stage—right corresponds to seeing one’s own needs met, taking responsibility for oneself, and allowing others to do the same

· Stage 3: Interpersonal concordance stage—right is having good intentions and motives and being concerned for others

· Stage 4: Law and order orientation stage—right is doing one’s duty to society and others and maintaining the rules of society

· Stage 5: Social contract, legalistic orientation stage—right is based on upholding the rules and values agreed upon by society, a social contract

· Stage 6: Orientation to universal ethical principles stage—right is an assumed obligation to principles such as justice and equality, which apply to all individuals; the individual recognizes the moral rightness of behavior 21

The first two stages are usually completed by age 7. Stages 3 and 4 are passed through and completed from preadolescence through adolescence, while the last two stages begin in early adulthood. Where do criminals stop in moral development in comparison to noncriminals? Research has found that criminals frequently fall into stage 1 or 2 of moral development, while noncriminals frequently fall into stage 3 or 4. 22 In stage 1, children comply with authority out of fear. Something is viewed as morally right if punishment is avoided. Individuals who did not progress through this stage will think that their criminal behavior is permissible as long as they are not punished for it. Obviously, this stage of moral development does not take into account other people or an obligation to society. In stage 2, children define what is right as that which satisfies their needs. That is why it is referred to as the hedonistic orientation stage. At this stage, children define something as right if they are not punished for it (i.e., stage 1) and it satisfies their needs. It is easy to see why it is argued that many criminals have stopped their moral development at stage 1 or 2. Their only concern with whether something is right or wrong is whether they get punished and satisfy their needs. It is not until stage 3 that children begin to take into account the feelings of others. Development to stage 3 insulates people from crime because they have become concerned about others, not just their own needs. Therefore, it is clear to see that individuals who proceed to stage 3 and perhaps beyond are far less likely to commit criminal acts.

Personality Disorders

Psychologists argue that certain personality characteristics of an individual may influence crime. Personality refers to the emotional and behavioral attributes of an individual. Attempts have been made to provide support for the belief that individuals with certain personality types are much more likely to commit criminal acts. These attempts have focused on identifying differences in the personalities of criminals and noncriminals. One attempt at identifying these personality characteristics was completed by Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck after they compared 500 delinquent and nondelinquent boys. Personality characteristics that were conducive to crime included extroversion, impulsivity, lack of self-control, hostility, resentment, suspicion of others, destructiveness, less fearful of failure, ambivalence toward authority, assertiveness, and feeling unappreciated. 23

Frequently the term “psychopath” or “sociopath” is used in describing some offenders. These terms technically refer to a condition known as antisocial personality disorder. According to the  Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, “The essential feature of antisocial personality disorder is a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others that begins in childhood or early adolescence and continues into adulthood.” 24 Some of the characteristics of antisocial personality disorder are (1) egocentrism; (2) self-esteem derived from personal gain, power, or pleasure; (3) absence of prosocial internal standards associated with failure to conform to lawful or culturally normative ethical behavior; (4) lack of concern for feelings, needs, or suffering of others; (5) deceitfulness, callousness, and hostility; and (6) irresponsibility, impulsivity, and risk taking. 25 It is argued that certain computer criminals satisfy the criteria of antisocial personality disorder. However, it is argued that the prevalence of antisocial personality disorder is lower among computer criminals than among other criminals.

Pedophiles and Psychological Theory

Many people wonder why pedophiles commit the crimes that they do; what combination of factors leads a person to want to commit sexual offenses against a child? Unfortunately, there are no easy answers. As discussed in  Chapter 8, pedophiles commit their crimes for a variety of reasons and go on committing their crimes, with little hope of rehabilitation. Most experts agree that pedophiles develop a sexual interest over a long period of time. Furthermore, there is a variety of reasons and factors that relate to developing pedophilia, none of which fully cause or explain the crime. Most commonly, pedophiles are exposed to some type of sexual abuse or trauma during their childhood. Another common factor is that they have had some type of abuse or other related problem during their sexual development and, as a result, develop an interest in children as sexual objects. Interestingly, the advent of the Internet has led to numerous problems in dealing with and detecting pedophiles.

The Internet serves many purposes for the pedophile of today, the least of which is the dissemination of child pornography. This poses a conundrum for theorists: Which comes first—an interest in computers due to existing pedophiliac interests or an interest in pedophilia as a result of viewing these types of images on the Internet? Some of the pedophiles arrested state that they developed an interest in children as sexual objects as the result of seeing such images on the Internet. Others clearly were pedophiles prior to the advent of the Internet and simply learned another technique for obtaining child pornography. In short, the specific reasons why a person becomes a pedophile are not immediately or clearly understood. Nonetheless, psychological theories posit that a person’s sexual interests and sexual paraphilias develop in much the same way as other interests and our personalities—through a process of learning, cognitive reinforcement, 

Terrorism and Political Theory

The term “terrorism” has been defined in a number of ways by a variety of scholars. For the most part, each definition has yielded a limited understanding of the actual phenomenon. This is particularly true when analyzing the current wave of international and technological situations in contemporary global affairs, such as those occurring in the Middle East and those involving cyber crime and cyber terrorism. In the popular mind, terrorism is viewed as the illegitimate and violent actions of specific groups that violate the authority of rightfully established political entities. 94Terrorism, in general, always has a political agenda. This agenda may be motivated by various political ideologies, separatist ethnic movements, or radical religious philosophies, but always the purpose of achievement is a specific set of political objectives. Although vague, as to explaining who terrorists are, this definition does provide a conceptual framework concerning what terrorism is. 95 It can be reduced, simply to a choice among violent means—not a choice between violence and nonviolence, but a manifestation of violence against people to achieve a goal.

By extension, terrorists often apply extreme, random acts of violence against the innocent (e.g., attacks on symbolic institutions, such as schools, churches, and synagogues; bombings of common gathering places, such as cafés, shopping malls, and office buildings; and the killing of individuals who represent legitimate governments such as soldiers, police officers, and political leaders), in an attempt to instill fear in the general population. Thus, terrorism is used as a methodology for political action. As Hoffman argues, terrorism is fundamentally and inherently “political.” Terrorism is “ineluctably about power: the pursuit of power, the acquisition of power, and the use of power to achieve political change. Terrorism is thus violence—or, equally important, the threat of violence—used and directed in pursuit of, or in service of, a  political aim.” 96






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