In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Criminal Use of Technology

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Anthologies and State of the Literature Reviews
  • Hacking and Cybertrespass
  • Piracy
  • Online Sexual Deviance, Child Pornography, and Sexting
  • Identity Fraud and Theft
  • Cyber Bullying, Cyber Harassment, and Cyber Stalking
  • Gangs Online
  • Terrorist Groups Online
  • Extremist Groups Online

Criminology Criminal Use of Technology
Richard K. Moule
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 February 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 February 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0211


Substantial growth has occurred since the 1990s in technologies sectors: the widespread use of the Internet, cellular telephones, digital media, and social networking sites. Suffice it to say, much of everyday life has moved online. Just as these emerging technologies offer a number of benefits to users, so too do they open up new opportunities for crime and deviance. Technology can act as an environment and means for offending (as in the case of hacking) and as a facilitator for deviance and crime in the real world (as with gangs, terrorism, and child pornography). Research over the past decade has begun elaborating on various criminal uses of the technology, including computer hacking and digital piracy, the creation and dissemination of child pornography and sexting, identity fraud and theft, and cyber bullying and harassment. A parallel body of research details the online presence and digital capabilities of antisocial groups, such as gangs, cults, and terrorist and extremist organizations, among others. The development of a coherent body of research on the criminal use of technology spans disciplines and theories of individual and group behavior. Indeed, it is noteworthy that these areas are concerns not just for criminology, but also for public health, human development, computer science, economics, and public policy. Further, the diverse nature of offending intimately tied to technology means that understanding how criminals embrace and harness these technologies carries important implications for theorists and practitioners alike. Despite its interdisciplinary appeal, and the very real problems associated with cyber deviance, rarely do these disciplines engage one another. This article brings together, and provides readers with, interdisciplinary readings and references to important and influential works examining deviant and criminal uses of technology since the 1990s. Although this article concentrates primarily on online offending and the use of technology by antisocial groups, it is nevertheless important to also understand cyber victimization or institutional reactions to the criminal uses of technology. Where applicable, references to these areas are also discussed.

General Overviews

A number of works detail the use of technology for deviant or criminal purposes. Felson and Boba 2010 provides an overview of routine activity theory and the way in which everyday items and behaviors can be linked to crime. Natarajan, et al. 1995 is an early example of this way of thinking in detailing the importance of telephones for drug dealing. Newman and Clarke 2011 provides a logical extension of Felson and Boba 2010, which presents a framework to the online world. Yar 2013 and Wall 2001 are early overviews of the growing problems associated with cybercrime. Wall 2001 further provides a typology of cybercrimes, which is used in Holt and Bossler 2014 (cited under Anthologies and State of the Literature Reviews) to frame the current state of knowledge surrounding cybercrime. Taylor, et al. 2015 brings together research linking individual and group offending behaviors online in an accessible way. Arquilla and Ronfeldt 2001 provides a somewhat extreme but important view of cybercrime from the perspective of government, and the challenges associated with use of increasingly sophisticated technology by antisocial groups.

  • Arquilla, John, and David Ronfeldt, eds. 2001. Networks and netwars: The future of terror, crime, and militancy. Santa Monica, CA: RAND.

    Focuses on asymmetrical conflict and the use of the technology to promote and support violence, terrorism, and other forms of extremism both domestically and abroad. Less criminologically focused, but covers a number of important antisocial groups.

  • Felson, Marcus, and Rachel L. Boba. 2010. Crime and everyday life. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    DOI: 10.4135/9781483349299

    Most recent version of the book. Influential framework for early studies of cybercrime and cyber victimization; useful for undergraduates. This edition integrates insights from control theory into the routine activity framework.

  • Hollinger, Richard C., and Lonn Lanza-Kaduce. 1988. The process of criminalization: The case of computer crime laws. Criminology 26.1: 101–126.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-9125.1988.tb00834.x

    Early account of the institutional efforts to criminalize online behavior. Good window into the development and definitions of cybercrime from a legal and social control perspective.

  • Natarajan, Mangai, Ronald V. Clarke, and Bruce D. Johnson. 1995. Telephones as facilitators of drug dealing. European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research 3.3: 137–153.

    DOI: 10.1007/BF02242934

    Conceptually important piece demonstrating how to think about technology and crime and the challenges they pose for law enforcement.

  • Newman, Graeme R., and Ronald V. Clarke. 2011. Superhighway robbery: Preventing E-commerce crime. Oxon, UK: Routledge.

    An important book for considering how to prevent cybercrime and cyber victimization, particularly those offenses related to e-commerce. Emphasizes rational choice and situational crime prevention strategies, to the neglect of other major criminological theories.

  • Taylor, Robert W., Eric J. Fritsch, and John Liederbach. 2015. Digital crime and digital terrorism. 3d ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

    The volume covers a broad body of cybercrime literature fairly successfully, including the online presence of antisocial groups and state social control responses to cybercrime. Useful for undergraduates.

  • Wall, David S., ed. 2001. Crime and the Internet: Cybercrimes and cyberfears. New York: Routledge.

    Seminal work laying a foundation for thinking about cybercrime. Defines four main cybercrime areas: hacking and cybertrespass, cyber-deception and theft, cyber porn and obscenity, and cyber violence. Lays out much of the foundation for research in this area, much of which remains unexplored.

  • Yar, Majid. 2013. Cybercrime and society. 2d ed. Los Angeles: SAGE.

    Solid introductory work, covering traditional areas of cybercrime and cyber victimization. Also explores the role of civil liberties in trying to control cybercrime and the diffusion of child pornography and hate speech on the Internet.

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