The broadest and most prevalent error requires the most disinterested virtue to sustain it.
—Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862)
In the beginning, computer systems were installed to manage back-end operations and support employees in their daily tasks. As technology evolved and systems became cheaper to deploy, businesses started using computers more and more in the management of their operations. By the early 1990s, computers and computer networks had become the information backbone of most enterprises, hosting a myriad of applications that even handled complex business logic.
As Internet availability and use increased, information dissemination via the Web became very popular. It allowed small and medium-sized businesses to present information about them and their products for the whole world to see. No longer were storefronts restricted by geographic limitations. Numerous catalog stores such as Sears and Macy's started putting out their catalogs and brochures in electronic form. By the late 1990s, almost every major consumer-based U.S. company had a Web site that featured its goods and services.
Moreover, as Web applications gained momentum, merchants realized that they could reduce reliance on physical storefronts and let customers place orders and pay for them directly over the Internet. Thus was born the electronic storefront was born. Computer networks and applications were now mature enough to handle monetary transactions efficiently and reliably.
The technological revolution of the past decade made a significant impact on the way business is done. Terms such as e-commerce, e-business, B2B (Business-to-Business), and B2C (Business-to-Consumer) started appearing in the business media and in product literature. Business trends and practices changed drastically. And the moving force behind this change was the technology shift, including the Internet. The Internet served as a binding force between entities hosting business logic and customers. It expanded the scope and reach of business and thus companies began to shift their short-term and long-term strategies to adapt and remain competitive.
Vendors such as IBM, BEA, Netscape, Sun, and Microsoft started coming up with different technological building blocks, which supported key business strategies. As a result, business owners and managers began making widespread use of these technologies and started doing business over the Internet. As these new electronic businesses opened their windows to a global audience, they started catching the attention of evildoers. What could be more profitable than trying to break into systems that make significant profits off the labors of others? (Or so the mentality goes.) The Information Superhighway now was ready for highway robbery. In this chapter we describe tricks used by Internet robbers to steal from electronic storefronts when no one is looking. We dub this crime “e-shoplifting.”