This module is a resource for lecturers
Basics of computing
A computer system could be a desktop or laptop computer. However, mobile phones, tablet computers, and Internet of things ( IoT) devices, which are Internet-connected devices (e.g., home appliances and smartwatches) that are interconnected and interoperable and facilitate the monitoring of objects, people, animals, and/or plants, and the sharing of information about them in order to provide the users of these devices with some form of service (Maras, 2015; for more information about the IoT, see Cybercrime Module 10 on Privacy and Data Protection), among many other devices, can also be considered computer systems. The definitions for a computer system vary. For example, Article 1(a) of the Council of Europe's Convention on Cybercrime of 2001, defines a computer system as "any device or a group of interconnected or related devices, one or more of which, pursuant to a program, performs automatic processing of data" (for guidance on the notion of a "computer system" included in the Convention, see Cybercrime Convention Committee, 2012). In contrast, Article 1 of the African Union Convention on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection of 2014, defines a computer system as "an electronic, magnetic, optical, electrochemical, or other high speed data processing device or a group of interconnected or related devices performing logical, arithmetic, or storage functions, and includ[ing] any data storage facility or communications facility directly related to or operating in conjunction with such device or devices."
Here we are trying to establish the basics of computing. The aim is for your students to have a basic understanding of the engineering side of computing (how computers work), but also how different legal systems define computer systems.
Computer systems tend to process data. Article 2(3) of the Arab League's (formerly known as the League of Arab States) Arab Convention on Combating Information Technology Offences of 2010, defines data as "all that may be stored, processed, generated and transferred by means of information technology, such as numbers, letters, symbols, etc." Other terms have been used to refer to data: Article 1(b) of the Council of Europe's Convention on Cybercrime uses the term "computer data" ("any representation of facts, information or concepts in a form suitable for processing in a computer system, including a program suitable to cause a computer system to perform a function"); Article 1 of the African Union Convention on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection of 2014, includes the term "computerized data," which has almost the same definition of data as the one included in the Council of Europe's Convention on Cybercrime of 2001 ("any representation of facts, information or concepts in a form suitable for processing in a computer system"); and Article 1(b) of the Commonwealth of Independent States' Agreement on Cooperation in Combating Offences related to Computer Information of 2001 that uses the term "computer information" ("information stored in a computer's memory or in a machine-readable or other storage medium in a format that can be read by a computer, or transmitted via communications channels").
Most of the computer systems we are familiar with store data. For example, a smartphone can create a picture with a built-in camera (data processing), and it can also save the picture for later access (data storage). Data is normally stored in an internal, persistent memory called a hard drive.
Those responsible for the provision of services relating to a computer system are known as service providers. Article 2(2) of the Arab Convention on Combating Information Technology Offences of 2010 defines a service provider as "any natural or juridical person, common or private, who provides subscribers with the services needed to communicate through information technology, or who processes or stores information on behalf of the communication service or its users."
The Internet in home computers and mobile phones are provided by Internet service providers (ISPs). The ISP has computer systems that can send and receive data to/from computers or phones. A computer network is created when two or more computers can send and receive data between each other.
Think about your email. If you use email, you probably open a browser and connect to a website. After logging in, you can send and receive emails. You probably do not own this website; another organization does. That organization is providing an email service, and can be considered a type of service provider. Note that access to the Internet and access to your email are very different services.
This brings us to traffic data, defined by Article 1(d) of the Council of Europe's Convention on Cybercrime of 2001 as "any computer data relating to a communication by means of a computer system, generated by a computer system that formed a part in the chain of communication, indicating the communication's origin, destination, route, time, date, size, duration, or type of underlying service." Earlier, we talked about computer data as data that is stored or processed by a computer system. Traffic data is data that is transmitted over a computer network (or network).
Think about your email again. You write your email and then 'send' the message to the recipient. The data in the email is sent through a network until it reaches its destination. Traffic data is any data that is needed for the email to reach its destination.
A good example is a telephone. Imagine you wanted to call your friend. You and your friend would both need phones, and you would both need phone numbers. Your service provider would lease you a phone number and network access, as long as you paid your phone bill. You would then need to know your friend's phone number to make the call. After you and your friend have a working service AND know each other's numbers, THEN you can communicate. The same is basically true for computer networks.
When you want to access a website, you type a domain name (e.g., yahoo.com) in an Internet (or web) browser (e.g., Google, Bing). This domain name can be resolved (i.e., mapped) to one or more Internet Protocol addresses (or IP address), "a unique identifier assigned to a computer [or other Internet-connected digital device] by the Internet service provider when it connects to the Internet" (Maras, 2014, p. 385). The Domain Name System (DNS) enables Internet access by translating domain names to IP address.
Want to learn more?
The Asia-Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC) offers a free technical course on DNS.
Once we have a basic understanding of a computer system, computer data, service providers, traffic data, and other computing concepts, we can start to understand how these can be used for commerce, communication, and crime.