Cutting cybercrime is a question of smart design

Cutting cybercrime is a question of smart design

Is it possible to “design out” online crime? It’s definitely worth a try.

Back in 1989, the Australian Institute of Criminology released a report containing advice for home-owners and builders to manipulate the design and surrounds of their dwellings.

By doing so, they were told they could minimise their chances of becoming a victim of crime, particularly property crime. Efforts were made to improve lighting, to cut hedges and to avoid creating places where criminals could hide when break-and-entering a house.

These are examples of the Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) concept in action. But as more and more citizens spend their time online, it’s worth taking the CPTED concept into the internet environment to “target-harden” users and design out online crime.

Making it so

Much has been made of the ease with which it’s possible to commit crimes online, including bullying, identity theft, intellectual property theft and phishing scams. And as technology has developed, so too has the crime enabled by such technology.

Moving CPTED into the online realm requires taking principles from the real world and applying them to the internet environment. Take online shopping as an example.

Traditional shopping centres combine active and passive safety measures. Active safety measures include corridors for high traffic flow of pedestrians. Passive safety measures include physical and electronic surveillance to make people feel safe and create an enjoyable experience.

Online shopping sites need to replicate this active and passive safety concept. This can be achieved through website design, product placement and navigation, combined with buyer and seller feedback schemes.

E-commerce has changed the way consumers shop and also presented new opportunities to criminals. Chief among these is the theft of personal information and credit card data, both of which can be monetised.

Data theft

This is distinct from offender behaviour in the case of offline shopping, where criminals are focused on stealing tangible items rather than information.

Unlike physical products, information is changeable, constantly moving, comes in many varieties and is of differing value depending upon its completeness and what corroborates it.

E-commerce website design needs to take into consideration National Privacy Principals (NPP) and reduce the chance of personal information falling into the wrong hands.

For example, NPP 4 focuses on Data Security and requires for an organisation to “take reasonable steps to protect the personal information it holds from misuse and loss and from unauthorised access, modification or disclosure”.

Just like the safe navigation of the real-world built environment, it’s important to give internet users safe choices about where to go and how to anticipate and respond to problems, such as reporting issues to the police.

There are a range of government and non-government websites with online safety tips for consumers. But the messages need significant amplification to get the attention and action of the everyday user.

Websites, associated portals and social networking sites need to be built to encourage legitimate use by lots of users. They need to allow casual online users to see into those sites with low barriers of visual entry to determine what is going on. To avoid “hidden” places and to encourage users who see something happening to others to be able to care and to act.

Such examples include internet dating sites (where vulnerable users are prone to being groomed) and myriad “daily deals” websites.

Balanced protection

There is, of course, the need to find a balance between privacy and security. A social networking or e-commerce website needs to allow privacy around personal conversations and the transfer of personally identifying data within a transaction.

But they also need mechanisms whereby system administrators can monitor security and website vulnerabilities. Additionally, fellow website users need to be “visible” to act as a deterrent to reduce bad user experience, including trolling, and prevent crime from occurring – just as in the real world.


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