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Cybercriminal definition

A cybercriminal is an individual who commits cybercrimes — criminal acts that involve information technologies (IT) either as a means or as a target. Cybercriminal activities include data theft, identity theft and fraud, online scams, spreading malware (including ransomware), denial-of-service attacks, and cybervandalism.

In popular culture, the term “cybercriminal” is often used synonymously with “hacker,” but that is not always correct. Cybercriminals are criminals first — their actions are explicitly against the criminal law. While many hackers are cybercriminals, others work within the law as cybersecurity consultants and penetration testers.

Real cybercriminal examples

  • Kevin Mitnick: In 1979, 16-year old Kevin Mitnick broke into Digital Equipment Corporation’s computer and made copies of its software. Mitnick was convicted and jailed for this cybercrime in 1988. Following a long career as a cybercriminal, Mitnick eventually founded his own cybersecurity consultancy firm.
  • Albert Gonzalez: He committed numerous cybercrimes in the 2000s while being active on the criminal commerce site “” Some of his crimes included debit card fraud involving millions of bank accounts. Gonzalez was arrested in 2008 and sentenced in 2010 to 20 years in a federal prison.

Further reading

Ultimate digital security