As in traditional crimes, for a cybercrime to exist four elements must be present: actus reus (the prohibited act or failing to act when one is supposed to be under duty to do so); mens rea (a culpable mental state); attendant circumstances (the existence of certain necessary conditions); and harm resulting to persons or property.
Here is an example using the four elements for a property cybercrime involving criminal trespass (defined as entering unlawfully into an area to commit an offense) and theft of information—the intended offense to be done upon entry. A cyberperpetrator enters the computer and unlawfully takes, or exercises unlawful control over, the property—the information of another (actus reus). The cyberperpetrator enters with the intent to commit an offense and acts with the intent of depriving the lawful owner of data (mens rea). By society’s standards, the cyberperpetrator has no legal right to enter the computer system or to gain control over the software (attendant circumstances). The cybercriminal is, therefore, liable for his or her acts. The cyberperpetrator unlawfully entered the computer (that is, criminal trespass) to commit an offense (that is, theft) once inside, and as a result, the target is not able to access his or her data (that is, harm is done to the target).
According to legal experts, except for the traditional crimes of bigamy and sexual assault—which technically cannot be committed in cyberspace because they are real-world acts—other conventional crimes seem to be able to make a smooth transition into the virtual world. Nonetheless, there has been considerable controversy around the possibility of virtual sexual assault cases, with LambdaMoo being one case in point.
See Also: Harm; LambdaMoo.
Brenner, S. Is There Such a Thing as ‘Virtual Crime’? California Criminal Law Review. [Online, 2001.] California Criminal Law Review Website. http://www.boalt.org/ CCLR/v4/v4brenner.htm; Schell, B.H. and Martin, C. 2004. Contemporary World Issues Series: Cybercrime: A Reference Handbook. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.