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ICT4D & Cybercrime

by Jane Ginn

As one that is often in the field, I have had the opportunity to conduct primary research in my area of interest: sustainable development.  A boots-on-the-ground approach allows me to use a participant observer technique that characterizes much of the research in the field of anthropology and cultural geography.  Regular readers of this news/blog know that I’ve primarily focused on the growth of free and fair trade, the need for infrastructure development, and the initiatives of humanitarian and medical workers in the developing world.  Another area of great interest to me is the evolving role of information and communications technologies (ICT) and how they are being used for development (4D).[i]

As background for the context of the research I’ll note that the market penetration of ICT4D is an area that has experienced explosive growth over the past decade [See Figure 1].  According to the Independent Evaluation Group of the World Bank the overall World Bank Group (including the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA)) provided $4.2 billion in support of the ICT sector between 2003 and 2010. An estimated $2.9 billion was to the poorest countries (Independent Evaluation Group, 2011).  Their support was in four key areas:

  • ICT sector governance reform
  • Increasing access to information technology infrastructure
  • Developing ICT skills
  • Developing ICT applications [ICT components in other sectors]

    ICT growth

    Figure 1 - ICT Growth

My own primary research in various countries in Asia has given me the opportunity to document the market penetration of cellular technology in very remote areas.  Interestingly, often the degree of market penetration is not a function of technology, but rather a function of government reforms in the areas of contract law, financial services, intellectual property protection, and public sector accountability and transparency.

For example, Figure 2 shows two small boys fixated on their cell phone. This was photographed in the delta of the Sarawak River as it flows into the South China Sea in Borneo. There are no roads into this area; however, there are cell towers all along the river.

Cell phone boys

Figure 2 - Boys in Borneo Using PDA

 

Malaysia has been implementing such reforms to make ICT attractive as an investment for the private sector companies and have, thus, facilitated the build-out their ICT infrastructure as a matter of public policy (Masud et al, (n.d.).[ii]  Similarly, Figure 3 shows a group of children in a longhouse deep in the jungle in the mountains near the Indonesia border.

Children in Longhouse

Figure 3 - Boys and Girls in Longhouse with PDA

In contrast, Figure 4 shows one of the few Internet Cafés in a small village along the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar [Burma] where government reforms have been slow to be implemented. As a result, access to cellular communications and the Internet is prohibitively expensive. This has effectively cut off the population from the ICT revolution, thus reducing the potential for democratic reforms.

Internet Cafe

Figure 4 - Internet Cafe in Myanmar (Burma)

But beyond this primary research, a wide range of secondary research opportunities are opening up, particularly if one uses secondary resource material in a heuristic sense as proposed by Boell and Cecez-Kecmanovic (2010).  And, when refining the purview to investigate the growth and propensity of cybercrime originating from the developing world, secondary sources are key to both framing the issues, and establishing a basis for global collective action to ameliorate the problem.

For example, McCuster (2006) draws distinctions between traditional hierarchically structured organized crime syndicates and their excursions into cybercrime and the loosely affiliated actions of hackers and crackers that organize around a common goal or political or social agenda.  The types of cybercrimes that are committed by the former are more likely to be along traditional profit-making lines such as money laundering, fraud, and drug and human trafficking.  Technical expertise is often recruited and hired from chat rooms, hacker conferences and other locations frequented by skilled technicians.  In contrast the types of cybercrimes that are committed by loosely affiliated groups tend to be the planting of botnets on unprotected computers for execution of distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks, the development and use of other types of malware (trojans, worms, viruses, etc.) and the penetration of firewalls of government and/or corporate entities for politically motivated reasons.

Kshetri (2009) focuses on the positive feedback mechanisms for cyber criminals which might provide some insight into global public policy for dealing with this growing transnational threat to corporate profits, government agency functionality, utility company servicing, consumer and constituent privacy, and overall global stability.  He correlates the economic, sociopolitical and cognitive feedback mechanisms along three dimensions:

  1. Inefficiency and congestion in the law enforcement systems
  2. Diffusion of cybercrime know-how and technology
  3. Increased predisposition toward cybercrime.

Here the concept of “organized” cybercrime relates more to the contextual factors that lead individuals to engage in the practice as opposed to the traditional interpretations as characterized by law enforcement literature.  It provides a blending of the systems/cybernetics approach to problem-solving by using a semi-structured approach to evaluating and characterizing the problem (i.e., economic, sociopolitical, and cognitive).

Over the next few weeks I’ll be exploring several dimensions of some of these issues that McCuster and Kshetri pose.  Importantly, I’ll want to place some of these considerations into the historical and sociopolitical framework that the summer of 2011 has offered us.  For example, what are the implications of the Arab Spring movements in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain with respect to the youth populations’ predisposition toward the use of cybercrime? If the economies of these countries are not structured by the reform outcomes in a manner that will provide jobs and opportunities, how will this affect the rise and nurturing of the criminal element?  These are important questions that leaders and public policy makers in developed countries should be dealing with in a proactive manner.

Perhaps there are some lessons to be learned by taking this heuristic approach, integrating primary and secondary research, and liberally crossing traditional academic disciplinary boundaries.

References:

Boell, S. K., & Cecez-Kecmanovic, D. (2010, June). Literature reviews and the hermeneutic circle. Australian Academic & Research Libraries, 41, 2 , 129-144.

Independent Evaluation Group. (2011). Capturing Technology for Development. Retrieved August 24, 2011, from IEG World Bank Group: http://ieg.worldbankgroup.org/content/ieg/en/home/reports/ict.html

Kshetri, N. (2009, December). Positive externality, increasing returns, and rise in cybercrimes. Communications of the ACM, 52(12) , 141-144.

Masud, M. R.; Yusoff, Z. M.; Hamid, H. A.; Yahaya, N.;. (n.d.). Foreign Direct Investment in Malaysia: Findings of the Quarterly Survey of International Investment and Services. Kuala Lumpur: Department of Statistics, Malaysia.

McCusker, R. (2006). Transnational organized cyber crime: Distinguishing threat from reality. Crime, Law & Social Change, 46 , 257-273. doi: 10.1007/s10611-007-9059-3.

 


[i] A good website for tracking the progress of ICT4D is: http://www.ictworks.org/

[ii] Masud et al have shown that from 2001 through 2007 the total stock of inbound FDI grew significantly (114.7%) due, primarily to mergers and acquisitions of existing multinational companies, joint ventures and new investment activities.