Offline and Local: The Hidden Face of Cybercrime

Jonathan Lusthaus, Federico Varese

Published: 28 July 2017

A persistent refrain in both the academic literature and the popular press is that cybercrime is a largely anonymous activity that exists in cyberspace (e.g. Gabrys, 2002. For relevant discussions, see Grabosky, 2004; Wall, 2007; Lusthaus, 2013). Cybercriminals ‘meet’ anonymously in virtual marketplaces (see, for instance, Holt and Lampke 2010; Décary-Hétu and Dupont, 2013; Hutchings and Holt, 2015). Shadowy attackers could strike from anywhere at any moment. They are a new type of threat, unlike any criminal activity that has been observed before. In short, these offenders challenge existing paradigms of crime and policing, and vastly new models are required to comprehend this new challenge.

In this article, we seek to add greater nuance to understandings of cybercrime by highlighting a neglected aspect of the phenomenon: the offline and local dimension. As a starting point it is vital to acknowledge that all cyber-attacks stem from a person who physically exists in a certain location. This basic consideration helps us better understand, investigate and counter cybercrime. It contextualizes the threat. We should expect a degree of variation as to how cybercrime presents in each case. The economic and social dynamics of different settings are likely to influence who gets involved in cybercrime, what types of cybercrime they carry out and the way they are organized. In short, both the individuals behind cybercrime and the offline worlds they inhabit deserve study. Cybersecurity should not just be about the analysis of fast changing technical threats and the challenges they pose. Alongside the online and technical, there is an offline, human and contextual element that matters. In this article, we consider the case of Romania—a leading cybercrime hub. On the basis of two field trips, we explore the offline and local dimension of cybercrime in this country. Our fieldwork suggests that understanding the specifics of the Romanian context is vital to comprehending the nature of cybercrime there and how it emerged. Important factors appear to include: the legacy of communism; economic development; and corruption/protection. These elements should be understood at both national and regional levels. The rest of this article is comprised of four sections. The next section outlines the methods employed for this study. The section on “Romanian cybercrime” sketches the phenomenon at the national level. The section on “The case of Râmnicu Vâlcea” explores cybercrime at a more regional level. The final section outlines the policy implications of this study.


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