In this section we will look at the ethics related to the use of the internet, in particular copyright, plagiarism, software types, hacking, cracking and malware


To copyright something is to legally prevent someone else from using your work without your permission. It applies to things you have created or written down, and not just the ideas in your head. You do not technically need to actively do something to copyright something of yours. Every original creation you produce is technically copyrighted as soon as you have produced it. For example, let's say you write a blog on an internet site. Someone isn't allowed to steal this and reproduce it as their own just because you haven't 'copyrighted' it. It was always your work to begin with.

However, proving that you did it first is often a dificult thing. This is why people often take measures to actively copyright their material.


There are several methods of copyrighting something. One method, known as 'poor man's copyright' is sending your material to yourself in the post. By doing this, the official post office of your country will stamp the envolope, and not opening the envelope when it is returned to you means that it can be used to prove the material was yours before it was stolen as it will have the date on the stamp. How effective this is varies from country to country however.

Another method is sending your work to a solicitor or bank to keep. They record the date that you sent it to them and can prove the date that you sent it if someone stole your material and you had to take them to court.

Software copyright works much like regular copyright. A person who writes a piece of software owns the copyright to that software, and stealing it and claiming you created it is forbidden. Copyright is very difficult to enforce internationally however, as each country has its own laws relating to this. Although there are international laws, they are not always adhered to. China for example has been criticised in the past for not punishing Chinese people who break copyright law against international copyright holders. Even in the United States, copyright law does not always protect software creators. Legally in the US, anyone who owns a piece of software has the right to copy it and sell the copies. This is why companies no longer 'sell' you the software but 'license' you to use it. Users usually have to sign an End User License Agreement (EULA) before they use software stating that they will not copy and sell it.

if you do wish to use copyrighted material, you need to request permission from the person who holds the copyright. The person could agree to allow you to use the copyrighted material for a fee. Or they may allow you to use it for free if they feel that it will not negatively affect them.

The copyright on a piece of work lasts for different lengths of time depending on which country you come from. Below is a list from Wikipedia which gives the length by country:

Wikipedia - Copyright Length By Country

As you can see the average is life + 50 years. This means that after a person has died, the copyright of their work is still valid, and any money paid to use their material wil go to the person who was left the materials in their will.


Plagiarism is the act of stealing something a person has written and claiming it is your own. It may sound exactly like copyright, and it is, but plagiarism is the act of copying something, whether it is legal or not. For example, copying the works of the ancient Greek author Homer would not count as copyright infringement since there is no copyright on the works due to the length of time. However, if you were to claim that you had written them, it would still count as plagiarism.



Before you use a piece of software it's important to know the laws attached to it, and what you are legally allowed to do. There are generally three different types of software:


This is software that is completely free to use, distribute and change. Not only can you download the software to use for yourself, but you can also download the 'source code' which is the programming that it was created using. This way you can change it to suit your needs. For example, you may want to change the way it looks, or add more functions to it. Once you have changed it you can then distribute it to other people as long as you do not charge for it. This type of software is also called 'open source software' because the source code can be freely changed. Examples include Linux, an operating system like Windows that people make different versions of and give them away for free.


Freeware is like free software apart from one difference - you cannot change it. With Freeware you are free to download and use it but you are not given access to the source code so you cannot change it. Even if you did manage to change it you cannot distribute different versions of it. Examples include Abode Reader which is used to read PDF files. Freeware is often made available for free. People may release freeware instead of free software to hide the secrets of their source code or to retain some control over how it develops.


Shareware is software that is given away for free, but has some limitations until you buy the full version. Limitations may include 30 days of use, limited features or a watermark if for example the software was used to create video or images. Shareware is very popular as it allows developers to get people interesting in their product and increases the chances of someone paying for it as they know whether they like it. However, it is possible for crackers to unlock shareware and release it for free on illegal file sharing sites which reduces the profit of the developers.


The increase of online communication and sharing of information, goods and services has led to the increase of unethical activity related to such practices. Below we will look at 3 issues and how they have affected online communities and businesses:


Hacking is the act of gaining unauthorised access to a computer system without the owner of the system's consent. Hackers may enter a computer system for several reasons. Some may want to steal information, others to cause damage to the system and some may just want to test their skills.

Hacking is an old practice, and has become more and mroe prevelent as the online world has grown.

For a brief history of hacking - click here

In recent years, hacking has become an international problem for governments and entire countries, not just individuals and companies. Countries now employ huge teams of computer scientists not only to prevent hackers but also to gain access to other country's computer systems and learn information key to international strength. The United States has previously blamed China for failing to prevent hackers' constant attempts to break in to its government systems. They have even gone so far as to suggest that China funds such attempts.


Hackers use several methods to gain access to computer systems. One of the most popular uses a method called 'phishing'. Phishing means pretending to be someone you are not to gain information. Hackers will send information to victims claiming to be from their bank or other institution. They will attempt to gain information from the victim which they can then use to gain access to their bank accounts and other secret information. Others will get the victim to download a file they think is from a friend of colleague which then gives the hacker access to their files and systems.

Another method is to use the vulnerabilities in software to gain access to the system. Most software will have at least a few flaws when it is first released. Hackers find these flaws and use them to gain access to the user's files. For example, software may cause the victim's computer to have open ports, virtual gateways to the system which are used by software to access the network, which can be taken over and used by the hacker to enter the computer. These vulnerabilities are called '0 day exploits' and can be bought on the black market for a lot of money.

Hacking costs governments, companies and the public billions worldwide every year. Banks are a particular target for hackers because they control so much money. Bank clearning houses, which control money being transfered from one account to another are a particular target as hacker's see them as the most effective way of profiting. To prevent such attacks, companies now spend far more than ever before on cyber security, with larger companies employing departments of hundreds of computer science experts aiming to prevent cyber attacks.


To avoid hackers gaining access to the most important information, companies often have the most sensitive and valuable data on a computer which is behind an 'air gap'. This means a computer which is not connected to the internet or external networks in any way, so hackers cannot gain remote access. To circumvent this, hackers have been forced to think of other ways. In 2008 a major cyber attack on US military systems was discovered. It had come from a USB disk which had been found in a parking lot. Curious of its contents, someone had inserted it in to an air-gapped computer unleashing the virus. Criminals have also used wireless frequencies to hack computers without the need for them to be connected to a network.