Hacking Laws

There are several types of computer crimes, but some of the most high-profile examples involve hacking. With data breaches increasingly becoming daily occurrences, hackers have affected everything from the economical (including numerous retail businesses) to the political by invading every aspect of our lives.

However, hacking doesn’t always rise to the level of a crime. Due to the varying degrees of hacking and it’s increasing prevalence in our society, it’s important to understand where the lines are drawn. Read on to learn more about hacking laws and punishments and what remedies may apply to victims of electronic intrusions.

Hacking is broadly defined as the act of breaking into a computer system. Hacking isn’t always a crime as “ethical hacking” occurs when a hacker is legally permitted to exploit security networks. In other words, it’s when a hacker has the appropriate consent or authorization. However, hacking crosses the criminal line when a hacker accesses someone’s computer system without such consent or authority.

For instance, if an individual acts without consent or any lawful authorization (i.e. from law enforcement agency and/or a court order) and penetrates a business’ firewall to access private servers and cloud storage systems or uses phishing to install malware to desktop and laptop computers with the intent to monitor communications and activities, they can be charged with a crime.

There are several federal laws that address hacking, including: 1) The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA); 2) The Stored Communications Act (SCA); 3)  The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA); and 4) The Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA).

The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) is the leading federal anti-hacking legislation that prohibits unauthorized access to another’s computer system. Although the law was originally meant to protect the computer systems of U.S. government entities and financial institutions, the scope of the Act expanded with amendments to include practically any computer in the country (including devices such as servers, desktops, laptops, cellphones, and tablets).

Although the CFAA’s penalties are mostly for criminal violations, the 1994 amendment expanded the Act to include causes of action for civil suits, in addition to criminal prosecution.

The Stored Communications Act mirrors the prohibitions of the CFAA and protects stored electronic communications and data or data at rest (including email, texts, instant messages, social media accounts, cloud computing and storage, and blogs/microblogs). There is a lot of overlap with the CFAA and often hackers will be in violation of both statutes.

The EPCA, a counterpart law to the SCA forbids intentional interception of electronic communications in transit or “data in motion,” rather than “data at rest.”

Although much of the focus is on federal laws, states have enacted hacking laws as well. While every state has computer crime laws, some states address hacking more specifically with laws that prohibit unauthorized access, computer trespass, and the use of viruses and malware.

For example, approximately half of the states in the country have laws that target the use of denial of service (DoS) attacks. In this form of hacking, an intruder floods the system or servers with traffic, denying access to legitimate users. Florida penalizes this more severely, categorizing this crime as a felony in the first degree.

Ransomware occurs when malware is installed on someone’s computer, denying access to the computer unless a ransom is paid. Several states, including California, have laws that specifically criminalize ransomware.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.

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