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Effects of Computer Addiction, Cyber-crime, and Unethical Behavior

Updated on January 22, 2018

Published: November 17, 2010

Edited: November 20, 2011

Exposing children to technology from the day they are born in this age of technological availability poses risks at later life stages for those children. Parents permit their children access to MP3 players, video games, cell phones, and computers at younger and younger ages. When these children mature, they have already developed their views on the proper uses of technology, whether ethical or not. Some of those views conflict with the accepted standards or codes of ethics incorporated by many organizations. This hub discusses some possible effects on the information assets of organizations from the standpoints of ethics and computer addiction.

Computer Addiction

Computer addiction is a phrase that was unheard of prior to the age of the Personal Computer (PC). Many researchers and practitioners dispute whether computer addiction is in fact an addiction. However, most agree that there are characteristics that individuals who are highly devoted to their computer related activities display that are compulsory in nature.

An Extreme Example

One case detailed by Griffiths (2000), involved an individual who was happily married until a change of jobs forced him to stay at home. His wife worked during the day so he was left on his own during those stretches. He began to spend too much time devoted to Internet Relay Chat (IRC) sites.

“Dave’s wife found out that he was using the Internet to live in a fantasy world—mainly with people in the United States” (p. 216). He became totally devoted and overwhelmed with the activity. Dave eventually lost his wife and job because of this obsessive behavior. Was Dave a computer addict? That is a question that only a psychiatrist could answer but Dave’s obsessive behavior certainly resulted from an increasingly high level of participation in IRC.

Other Compulsive Activities

Individuals who participate in cell phone texting and computer gaming may become highly preoccupied with those activities. Sometimes, to the extent that they exhibit what some would term as withdrawal symptoms when they are placed in situations that do not permit access to those activities. The combined use of MP3 players with PCs and the Internet resulted in an increasing attitude by young adults that some forms of copyright infringement or software piracy are acceptable.

File sharing technology enables users of peer-to-peer networking services to download songs and software from other user’s PCs, thus bypassing normal distribution channels and avoiding payment. Some individuals who would not intentionally commit theft see nothing wrong with these activities.

According to Nykodym, Ariss, and Kurtz (2008), the practice of computer hacking became prevalent in the 1990s and prosecutions for hacking related crimes increased. Convicted hackers were sometimes placed into rehabilitative therapyprograms which led to a public acceptance of computer addiction as a condition, regardless of whether there were any diagnostic procedures or accepted symptoms for the condition. Reed, as cited by Nykodym, et al. (2008), stated that “The Mitnick case introduced and legitimized the notion of clinical computer addiction to the US legal system” (p. 2). Mitnick is probably the most noted and publicized hacker, who went on to write many books and currently acts as a security consultant.

Leading to Unethical Behavior and Cybercrime

What influences lead an individual to perform unethical acts or participate in cybercrime activities? Accepting the lack of consequences to past behavior or the behavior of others is an influencing factor. This may explain why many young adults see no ethical conflict with the downloading activities presented in the previous section. Once performing an activity results in no negative consequences the individual is more likely to participate in that activity again. A study cited by Kshetri (2009) stated that “88% of computer science students at a U.S. university admitted committing an illegal act online” (p. 143).

Past Addictions

Nykodym, et al. (2008) concluded that psychologists concurred, “Past addictions, such as substance abuse or addiction to gambling, can lead to future addictive behaviors. Many computer addicts have a history of addiction” (p. 5). An Individual who spends enough time on the Internet to become a computer addict may be presented with the opportunity to commit cybercrime simply by the nature of high involvement with the Internet.

Without the individual developing the proper coping mechanisms, this opportunity may manifest as participation in criminal activity. This effect may be especially true for individuals experiencing low economic opportunity, especially teenagers. Kshetri (2009) pointed out “Crime rates are linked to economic opportunities…. [L]ow earnings are a factor behind crime, and teenagers have lower earnings and fewer opportunities” (p. 143).

Personal Isolation from Victims

The ease of access to PCs, computer networks, and the Internet may lead to a misunderstanding by users of the ethical implications of such use. As proposed by Kshetri (2009), perpetrators of cybercriminal offenses do not know or often see their victims. This lack of personal contact removes the perpetrator from the victim and strengthens the belief that the individual has committed no ethical offense. “Compared to conventional crimes, people involved in cybercrimes are thus less likely to see their actions’ negative impacts” (p. 144).


Opportunity plays a role in cybercrime. As proposed by Nykodym, et al. (2008), “Evidence shows that some people commit crimes simply because they had the opportunity laid in front of them and took it…. This shows a lack of restraint by these individuals, which can lead to further criminal activity” (p. 4). In other words, some individuals commit cubercrime simply because they can.

Low Moral Values

A final influence on the propensity to unethical behavior may be the current state of moral values. Kshetri (2009) cited a 2004 Gallup Poll, which stated that “the state of moral values is getting worse” (p.144). Since perceived ethical standards are by nature married to moral values, a decline in moral values would lead to a decline in ethical standards and long-perceived unethical behavior would gain legitimacy.

Internet Influences on Crime

Twenty years ago, few individuals had access to the Internet or computers. Today, however, computers and Internet access permeate nearly every household and business. This ease of access influences the ability of criminals to commit crimes. Cybercrime is not necessarily crime committed over the Internet but more broadly includes any crime in which the criminal makes use of a computer. Nykodym, et al. (2008) stated that “all types of criminals, from hackers and spies to sexual predators and murderers, are able to use computers and the Internet to facilitate and ease the processes of their crimes” (p. 4). Nykodym, et al. (2008) further provided the following list of benefits that criminals feel the Internet provides:

· extend the reach of the criminal

· ease the investigation of potential victims

· provide a damper to prevent discovery

· provide anonymity

( p. 4)

The Internet does not provide new types of crime to commit but provides a new avenue to commit the existing types of crime with a far-reaching effect. For instance, swindles and Identity theft existed as types of crime long before the advent of the PC. However, the Internet has provided an avenue to commit those crimes with less effort on a global basis.

Computer Addiction and Data Safeguards

Information glut or the unbridled quest to discover new information may be one of the most detrimental effects to data safeguards that organizations face because of computer addiction. Nykodym et al. (2008) pointed out the dangers of addicted employees bypassing or defeating security controls in the quest to discover new and fulfilling information. “A person can become so engrossed in finding out information and searching Internet databases, that he or she will start to overstep boundaries. This information craving can lead to hacking into company databases and even espionage” (p. 5).

Addicted individuals may lack ethical standards to provide guidance when facing ethical dilemmas. An ethics of care attitude; which according to Stapleton (2008), “emphasizes solidarity, community, and caring about one’s special relationships” (p. 406) would help lead the individual toward making decisions that do not negatively affect the individual’s peers or the organization with which the individual is affiliated.

By the same token, an attitude reflecting “the more dominant ethics of justice and rights, which emphasizes universal standards, professional codes of conduct, moral rules, and impartiality” (p. 406) would help the individual understand the possible harm that bypassing safeguards may inflict. When a computer addict oversteps the security safeguards imposed by an organization to safeguard data, the addict demonstrates a lack of sound ethical judgment and thereby demonstrates to the organization that future trust should be withheld.

Threats to data safeguards also exists from without the organization. A group of convicted hackers “would drive past retailers with a laptop computer, tapping into those with vulnerable wireless Internet signals. The trio would then install ‘sniffer programs’ that picked off credit and debit card numbers as they moved through a retailer's computers” ( Associated Press, 2010).

The lead hacker, who prosecutors classified as a computer addict, demonstrated a lack of ethical values during his trial. He stated, as reported by the Associated Press (2010), that he had little concern for the people whose’ account information he had stolen “I always thought that they were being made whole by their financial institutions." He therefore felt that since a financial institution would cover the losses that he had not violated the rights of the involved individuals.

Behavior Leading to Ethical Problems

Certain forms of compulsive behavior may lead to ethical problems or computer addiction. The author, in the capacity of an IT instructor, witnesses some of this behavior on a daily basis. Students sign an agreement to abide by the institution’s acceptable use policy and regularly disregard the restrictions that the policy contains.

The acceptable use policy states that students may only use the institution’s computers for academic purposes. This instructor reinforces that policy by reminding students that they should not use the computers to play online games, participate in social networking, or access file-sharing sites. This instructor also observes students involved in these activities on a daily basis. The students who participate in these activities either do not understand the policy or do not feel an ethical obligation to comply with them (Personal observation,

Research conducted by Grusser, Thalemann, and Griffiths (2007) found that “gaming has an addictive potential that is also mirrored by addiction-related cognitive components like significantly stronger positive outcome expectancies” (p. 291). Positive outcome experiences are those experiences that add a reward to a particular activity. These positive outcome experiences may lead to expectations in other areas and lead the gamer to more destructive or addictive behavior.

Gambling, more specifically online gambling is another activity that leads to addiction and manifests in other compulsive behaviors. A 2008 study concluded that “the pathological gambler has clear tendencies towards alcoholism, nicotine addiction, or drug addiction” (Beteille, 2008). Many other activities when left unchecked may lead to compulsive behavior and ethical conflicts. These activities include excessive cell-phone texting and social networking.

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Computer addiction exists even though practitioners disagree on the ability to diagnose the condition.  This addiction presents organizations with ethical dilemmas regarding the disposition of affected employees.  Some may argue that computer addiction is not an addiction but merely a form of compulsory behavior.  However, the affects of excessive compulsory behavior may be as ethically challenging as an addiction.  Employees affected by these conditions may bypass the safeguards to data and place the organizations at risk.  Compulsory behavior may lead employees to make poor ethical judgments concerning the use of technology and those decisions are a matter of concern to organizations. 

Organizations may help prevent the effects of computer addiction, cybercrime, and compulsory behavior to the organization’s data assets by employing sound HR screening procedures of employment candidates.  Maintaining a management atmosphere that demonstrates awareness to the signs of addiction and offering treatment when appropriate would help alleviate the problem and encourage employee openness.

Some signs of compulsory behavior include excessive participation in cell-phone texting, using company owned computer assets to participate in social networking, and using company owned computer assets to download copyrighted material.  Organizations should explicitly forbid these noted activities in their codes of conduct or ethical standards and take action against employees who knowingly violate those policies or standards.

What are your thoughts?

The author appreciates all comments.

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Associated Press. (2010). Hacker Gets Harshest Cybercrime Sentence Ever. Available from

Griffiths, M. (2000). Does Internet and computer "addiction" exist? Some case study evidence. CyberPsychology & Behavior , 3 (2), 211-218. doi:10.1089/109493100316067

Grusser, S., Thalemann, R., & Griffiths, M. (2007). Excessive computer game playing: Evidence for addiction and aggression? CyberPsychology & Behavior , 10 (2), 290-292. doi:10.1089/cpb.2006.9956

Kshetri, N. (2009). Positive Externality, Increasing Returns, and the Rise in Cybercrimes. Communications of the ACM , 141-144.

Nykodym, N., Ariss, S., & Kurtz, K. (2008). Computer addiction and cyber crime. Journal of Leadership, Accountability and Ethics , 78-85.

Stapleton, S. (2008). Ethical decision making in technology development: a case study of participation in a large-scale information systems development project. AI & Soc , 22, 405-429. DOI 10.1007/s00146-007-0150-1


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