What Is Cyber Crime? Definitions and Examples to Know

July 14, 2020 • Zachary Amos


Cyber crime is an often-discussed topic, but some people don’t know what it means. Individuals who count themselves in that group need not worry. This rundown gives the crucial details

What Is Cyber Crime?

Cyber crime encompasses activities in which the internet, computers and other connected devices play major roles. The tech device or internet connection typically facilitates the misconduct. 

Some perpetrators find it easier to carry out traditional illegal acts due to online wrongdoing, too. For example, drug traffickers hired hackers to outsmart authorities at a Belgian port, removing some obstacles for their plans. 

Moreover, if a departing employee wanted to steal data from a company, the compact size of a USB thumb drive lets them do that less conspicuously than when the main method previously involved smuggling physical paperwork out via a briefcase. Insider data theft is not a new phenomenon, but tech gadgets make it easier to pull off without arousing suspicion. 

What Are the Main Types of Cyber Crime?

Staying protected from cyber crime is more achievable when people know some of the main categories of such acts. Here’s a useful list:


This cyber crime involves emails or websites carefully created to appear as originating from legitimate senders. The goal is for the creators to convince those targeted to provide sensitive information or take another desired action. 

For example, a malicious party may recreate a banking email and use a brand’s logo and font to appear maximally realistic. The content will likely request that a recipient gives details like their password or bank account number to prevent an undesirable action, such as account closure. 

Spear Phishing

Whereas many phishing attempts target a large audience (and often use greetings like, “Dear customer”), spear phishing attacks are more specific and typically tailored towards one recipient or department.

Cybercriminals often perform extensive research before these attacks and fill their messages with industry jargon, information about genuine transactions, or other details that cause the recipient to perceive the content as real. Some spear phishing attempts urge people to transfer money, particularly when senders pose as authority figures.

Malware Distribution

Malware is a broad category of malicious software. People acting unlawfully often attach malware-infected files to emails or embed harmful content in websites. They trick recipients into downloading material or visiting a compromised site by telling them to download an invoice, or navigate to a web portal to confirm shipment details, for example. 


Ransomware is a specific type of malware that locks down file access or entire systems and demands the victims pay the hackers to restore availability. However, providing the funds doesn’t guarantee results.

Findings published in an IBM-sponsored study found that nearly 60% of residents do not want local governments to use tax dollars to meet ransomware requests. Government bodies are frequent ransomware targets since hackers know the tremendous potential for wreaking long-term havoc. 

Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) Attacks

This kind of cyber crime happens when multiple compromised computers flood websites with traffic, causing them to crash or otherwise fail to perform as expected. Criminals launch DDoS attacks by infecting vulnerable computers with malware to affect the targeted site. 

What Is the Cyber Crime Connection to Disasters?

Online criminals frequently capitalize on urgency and emphasize how people must act quickly to avoid unpleasant consequences. This approach reduces the chances of victims thinking carefully before responding. 

There’s also a spin-off where crooks use recent disasters to coerce their victims. This practice can happen both on and offline, but we’ll focus on internet-based corruption here. 

U.S. government officials recently identified cyber crime incidents related to the COVID-19 pandemic. A person may get an email with a supposed download for a coronavirus tracker, only to find out that the attachment infected their computer.

Other techniques include designing emails to appear as coming from reputable sources, such as the World Health Organization (WHO), complete with content urging a person to download an attachment to get the latest virus updates. 

Authorities gave similar warnings associated with online crimes and recent hurricanes. People could receive fraudulent emails concerning discounted repairs on their damaged homes or see messages for donations to non-existent charities to support relief efforts.

What Is the Outlook for Cyber Crime?

It’s impossible to say what the next few years or months could hold for cyber crime, except to say it will continue. That’s because those who carry out illegal acts online regularly update their methods and plan new attacks to try and stay ahead of cybersecurity experts.

However, now that you can confidently answer if a friend asks you, “What is cyber crime?” and there are plenty of examples to give them, you’re well-equipped to use your knowledge to act thoughtfully online and encourage others to follow suit.