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Vandalism in Digital Crime: Types & Evidence

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

Vandalism in digital crime typically seeks to wreak havoc and destroy data rather than steal and misuse it. In this lesson, you'll learn more about cybervandalism and what it looks like in its various forms.

Digital Vandals

In the midst of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, the crowdsourced website Wikipedia experienced digital vandalism. Since anyone can edit a Wikipedia page, it allowed editors to first delete Republican candidate Donald Trump's entire page. Later, after the page had been restored, editors returned to the entry, replacing its contents with one phrase, ''Let's be fair, nobody cares about him.''

Whether the acts were done as a joke or to send a message, both attempts at changing Trump's Wikipedia entry fall under the same classification: cybervandalism.

You're probably familiar with the concept of traditional vandalism: graffiti marking the side of a building, the tires of a friend's car being slashed or teenagers egging a house. Cybervandalism is similar in the damage it causes, just in a virtual form. Let's take a closer look.

What Is Cybervandalism?

Cybervandalism is damage or destruction that takes place in digital form. Instead of keying someone's car, cyber vandals may deface a website (such as Wikipedia), create malware that damages electronic files or elements that interrupt its normal utilization or remove a disk drive to disable a computer system.

Unlike digital espionage, where the purpose is to steal and misuse data, digital vandalism only seeks to damage, destroy or disable data, computers or networks. Cybervandalism can impact businesses drastically, including the ability of your customers to access services as well as financial loss or impact to your brand or reputation.

In the next section, we'll highlight some common forms of vandalism that cybercriminals may undertake.

Types of Digital Vandalism

Hacking a Wikipedia page isn't the only way that cybervandalism can impact a business. Here are a few others.

Damaging System Elements

Cybervandalism may hit a business in the form of an element of a system being damaged in order to interrupt its normal utilization. When this happens, a distributed denial of service (DDoS) occurs. A DDoS simply means that service from a business has been interrupted due to some form of digital vandalism. Cybercriminals may do this by developing and sending malware (malicious software) that disables anything from a computer's hard drive to a server that stores information to specific programs or applications. This type of attack could disable a company's e-commerce store, for example, or inhibit employees' ability to log into a computer network. While this type of vandalism is often done just to wreak havoc, some cyber vandals will hold company systems ''hostage'' until the company pays for their release.

Damaging Computer Hardware

Another example of a criminal committing cybervandalism occurs when a disk drive is removed in an attempt to disable a computer system. This could happen internally by a disgruntled employee or externally from a thief attempting to steal company data or intellectual property. In this regard, not only does the company suffer the loss of equipment that damages a computer system or network, but the loss of important information that can cause financial loss or loss of reputation.

Defacing Websites

Website defacement, whether small such as changing data on Wikipedia or more complex, can be another form of digital vandalism that a company may have to contend with. Individuals often deface websites to make a political statement or simply to draw attention or cause chaos. Anytime a cyber criminal makes changes to a website or its appearance, it is considered defacing a website.

The state of Washington's Department of Health dealt with this when its website was defaced with pro-ISIS messaging including Arabic symbolism and messaging such as, ''I love Islamic state.'' Google also found itself on the victim side of cybervandalism when a user placed an image of the Android mascot urinating on Apple's logo in its Maps application.

Hackers defaced various government websites presenting a pro-ISIS message
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