How Fighting Cybercrime Also Fights Global Poverty


TACOMA, Washington — Technological advancements of the last three decades have revolutionized the nature of governance, business and daily life for the better. However, it has also given rise to a new, inconspicuous category of criminal activity. Cybercrime is the broad term for criminal activities that involve the use of digital computers. Potential victims include any individual, business or other entity with a digital device. Although there are many forms of cybercrime, the most common include hacking, committing fraud or theft, trafficking child pornography and using hate speech or inciting terrorism. Fighting cybercrime is one of the many ways governments can also help downsize poverty, as will be explained below.

Cybercrime’s Rapid Global Proliferation

The rate at which cybercrimes are committed has increased dramatically in the last five years, with a 350% increase in ransomware attacks alone from 2017 to 2018. It poses a significant threat to the security of institutions and the welfare of citizens around the world, and the U.S.’s influence is proving to be valuable in the fight against it.

The business of cyberattacks is low risk and can yield high returns. Additionally, the world is facing an enforcement crisis for fighting cybercrime. A 2018 Third Way report estimates that less than 1% of cyberattack perpetrators are prosecuted. Furthermore, many cyberattacks are often for-hire at relatively low prices. Parties involved usually pay with cryptocurrencies in order to ensure anonymity, making them even more difficult to investigate.

The White House Council of Economic Advisors estimated that cybercrimes cost the global economy $3 trillion dollars in 2015 alone, with projected costs increasing with each passing year. A loss of this size to the global economy contributes to greater inequality and erodes the existence of the middle class in developed countries.

Cybercrimes and Poverty

While cybercrimes contribute to inequality, they are also driven by it. Engineers or individuals interested in computers that live in developing countries are less likely to be well-paid for their skills than their counterparts in developed countries. The income that cybercrime can generate therefore becomes more appealing. One of these income-generating methods is ransomware, a common type of cybercrime that includes phishing attacks. This kind of cyber attack involves charging a ransom for the privacy or return of stolen, often valuable data and is more likely to generate income.

The link between cybercrime and poverty is clear in the case of Nigeria. In 2019, Nigeria’s poverty rate was 40.1%, with the youth unemployment rate at an estimated 36.5% as of 2018. These unemployed youths have easy access to computers through cyber-cafés, where the Internet can be used to access ready-made kits and tools that make committing cybercrimes simpler and more straightforward.

In 2014, cybercrime caused monetary losses amounting to 0.08% of Nigeria’s GDP. Additionally, it caused further economic losses by harming the country’s international reputation in the business world. Nigeria’s government recognized this link between a high rate of cyberattacks and poverty. Consequently, it has passed legislation to combat cybercrime. It has also implemented programs and policies to lower the poverty rate.

U.S. Agencies Fighting Cybercrime

There are currently nine U.S. federal agencies that have domestic and international involvement in cyber enforcement. The Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Homeland security both play large roles in investigating and prosecuting cybercriminals. Meanwhile, the Department of Treasury investigates finance-related cyber crimes and establishes cyber-related sanctions for the U.S.

The Department of State, the DOJ and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) are the agencies primarily facilitating international cooperation against cybercrime. Each of these agencies has offices dedicated to all aspects of fighting cybercrime.

International Cooperation Against Cybercrime

International cooperation against cybercrime has expanded in the last decade with the formation of international bodies. These include the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime, the African Union Convention on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

Congress has supported the U.S. working bilaterally and multilaterally with foreign governments to combat cybercrime. This cooperation, along with programming designed to protect intellectual property rights, furthers the U.S.’s efforts to fight various cyberattacks. In addition to working directly with other countries, the U.S. also works with the G-7, the United Nations and the African Union.

The recent increase in the recognition of and legislation fighting cybercrime are promising for the future. The U.S.’s influence and diplomatic efforts with other governments will help decrease the monetary losses from cybercrime. Additionally, it will help end the cycle of poverty and the inequality it comes from and sustains.

Isabel Serrano
Photo: Unsplash


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