A major problem for the study of cybercrime is the absence of a consistent current definition, even amongst those law-enforcement agencies charged with tackling it. As Wall (2001: 2) notes, the term ‘has no specific referent in law yet it is often used in political, criminal justice, media, public and academic discussions’. Rather than construing cybercrime as a single phenomenon, it is better to view the term as signalling a range of illicit activities whose common denominator is the central role played by networks of information and communication technologies (ICTs). Thomas and Loader (2000: 3) encapsulate this view in their definition of cybercrime as ‘computermediated activities which are either illegal or considered illicit by certain parties and which can be conducted through global electronic networks’. One common approach to classifying cybercrimes is through the
relationship between the crime and the technology. In this classification a distinction can be made between ‘computer-assisted crimes’ and ‘computer-focused crimes’. The first consists of those crimes that predate the internet but take on new forms in cyberspace – such as fraud, theft, money laundering, sexual harassment, pornography or hate speech. The second comprises crimes that emerged in conjunction with the internet and could not occur without it – such as hacking, viral attacks and website defacement. Whilst this is a useful general classification, it is somewhat limited for criminological purposes since it focuses on the technology rather than on the relationship between offenders and victims. A second way of classifying cybercrime is to subdivide it according to the object or target of offence. Thus, Wall (2001: 3-7) subdivides cybercrimes into four established legal categories:
Cyber-trespass – crossing boundaries into other people’s property and/or causing damage (e.g. hacking, viruses, defacement).