3.How seriously the companies are taking the problem.
You can rob a bank without leaving the house these days. Who needs stocking masks, guns and getaway cars? If you're a computer whizz-kid, you could grab your first million armed with nothing more dangerous than a personal computer (PC), a telephone and a modem to connect them.
All you have to do is dial into the networks that link the computers in large organisations together, type in a couple of passwords and you can rummage about in the information that's stored there to your heart's content.
Fortunately it isn't always quite as easy as it sounds. But, as more and more information is processed and stored on computer, whether it's details of your bank account or the number of tins of baked beans in the stockroom at the supermarket, computer crime seems set to grow.
A couple of months ago a newspaper reported that five British banks were being held to ransom by a gang of hackers who had managed to break into their computer. The hackers were demanding money in return for revealing exactly how they did it. In cases like this, banks may consider paying just so they can protect themselves better in the future.
No one knows how much money is stolen by keyboard criminals - banks and other companies tend to be very secretive if it happens to them. It doesn't exactly fill customers with confidence if they think their bank account can be accessed by anyone with a PC! Some experts believe that only around a tenth of all computer crimes are actually reported. Insurance company Hogg Robinson estimate that computer frauds cost British companies an incredible £400 million a year.
Most computer crimes are 'inside jobs' where staff with access to the company's computers fiddle with the records. A comparatively small amount are committed by the more glamorous - and headline-grabbing hackers.
The true hacker, it seems, doesn't do it for financial gain. The thrill appears to be, not in getting rich, but in beating the system. Two of Britain's most notorious hackers are Nicholas 'Mad Hacker' Whiteley and Edward Singh. The renegade pair have been the scourge of organisations with insecure computers for years, seemingly competing for the title of Britain's best hacker.
Whiteley's hacking days came to an abrupt halt in June, when the 21-year-old was sent to prison for four months for damaging computer discs. Edward Singh first came to public attention after claiming that he had hacked into American and British government and military computers.
'It has never been my intention to steal anything,' said Singh. 'I really see myself as a highly skilled software engineer.' His mission seems to be to prove just how insecure their systems are.
As with everything else, hackers start young in the States. A 12-year-old boy in Detroit was accused of entering a company's credit rating computer and distributing the numbers he found there. His mothers told reporters that he spent up to 14 hours on his computer during the weekend. 'He didn't bother me,' she said. 'I figured, computers, that's the thing of the day.'
Last month, two New York teenagers, one aged 14 and one aged 17, were charged with breaking into a computer system owned by a company that publishes computer magazines. They are alleged to have changed polite recorded greetings to rude messages, added bomb threats and wiped advertisers' orders.
Customers linked into the system only to be told that 'Daffy Duck is not available'! The company estimates that the tampering has cost $2.4 million.
Prevention is probably easier than detection, and many companies now spend lots of time and money devising programmes using passwords and codes. Of course, all this of no use at all if computer users tell each other their password, stick it on their screen so they don't forget it or use password like 'password'. It all happens.
There are plenty of software companies who specialise in writing software that make computers hacker-proof. One company in the States set out to prove that its system can defeat hackers by asking 2,000 of them to try to hack in. The hackers were given two weeks to discover the secret message stored on two PCs in offices in New York and San Francisco. The message reads: "The persistent hunter who wins the prize sooner or later becomes the hunted.' You'll be relieved - or perhaps disappointed - to learn that not one hacker managed it.
Complete these statements by choosing the answer which you think fits best:
1.Banks may pay computer criminals
a)to give back information they have stolen;
b)to explain what their technique is;
c)not to commit the same crime again;
d)not to pass on information they have stolen.
2.Companies do not always report computer crime because they
a)think it would create bad publicity;
b)don't expect the criminals to be caught;
c)don't want the police to investigate;
d)think the criminals are members of their staff.
3.The computer hackers' motive seems to be
a)to win a competition;
b)to make a lot of money;
c)to overcome a challenge;
d)to appear in the newspapers.
4.The mother of the 12 year-old hacker in Detroit
a)had been worried about the time her son spent at his computer;
b)thought her son's interest in his computer was normal;
c)had been involved in her son's criminal activity;
d)had tried to prevent her son's criminal activity.
5.What was the result of one software company's attempt to prove that it's security systems were effective?