Crime Online

Crime Online

The majority of property crimes now occur online. Our legal system hasn’t caught up.

(Yifei Fang/Getty Images)

Fancy Bear Goes Phishing: The Dark History of the Information Age, in Five Extraordinary Hacks
by Scott J. Shapiro
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2023, 432 pp.

Crime has decreased significantly in the United States since the 1990s. Today, Americans are much less likely to become victims of burglary, theft, arson, and vandalism. But as everyone has moved online, so has crime. The majority of property crimes are now cybercrimes—including identity theft, credit card fraud, and various kinds of cyber attacks—and they are on the rise.

This development raises serious political questions. What are our digital rights, and how are they upheld? When we’re online, who’s in charge of protecting us? How are our institutions addressing the social transition to the internet?

Our physical world operates under a fairly well-established regulatory regime. There are deficiencies and inadequacies, of course, but if something goes wrong you have the right to seek legal remedy. The digital world is different. The internet is a legal frontier zone, where laws are piecemeal and there is little federal oversight.

The other day someone opened a credit card in my name. It was easy for them to do because I’ve been hacked before; a lot of my data is online, and any bored teenager can give a credit card company my name and an old address and get a shiny new card shipped directly to their door. Which means the onus is on me to prevent a random stranger who buys my data online from tanking my credit score. The thief, meanwhile, is unlikely to face any consequences. Nobody is looking for them.

If you’ve ever used the internet, you’re almost certainly at risk. (If you don’t believe me, you can visit Have I Been Pwned?, one of many websites that alert you to whether your personal information is available for sale.) Many of the sites you use store your personal data. And once enough people use a service, it becomes a high-value target for hackers. Gigabytes of personal information flow to the dark web, where anyone with cryptocurrency can buy them. Accumulate enough information from one person, and it’s very easy to steal their identity.

In Fancy Bear Goes Phishing, law professor and author Scott J. Shapiro explains how we got here—and suggests where we might go next. In clear and lively prose, he tells the peculiar history of cybercrime through five hacks that changed law, society, and politics. As technology plays an increasingly large role in our lives, cybercrime shows how connected we’ve become and reveals the cracks in our online systems.


Shapiro’s big idea is pretty simple: hacking is about humans. “Understanding what is happening in the cyber-re...

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