In today’s electronic world most people are familiar with the term “hacking.” Although the term lacks a universally accepted definition, it usually refers to the unauthorized entrance or intrusion into a computer network, system, or individual computer, typically for personal gain. Because hacking involves gaining access to a computer network, system, or individual computer without consent and often includes theft, espionage, unlawful review of protected data, and the destruction of files, it often violates both Federal and State statutes. The severity level of the crime and corresponding penalties if convicted depend on a number of factors.
Cyber-crimes can be prosecuted at the Federal or State level. At the Federal level, hacking is investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the U.S. Secret Service, or the Internet Crime Complaint Center. At the state level a variety of local and state law enforcement agencies may investigate hacking. “Hacking” itself is not a criminal offense; however, it is frequently an element of a criminal offense. The precise crime with which an individual is charged will depend on things such as:
- What system was hacked – hacking into a neighbor’s computer system, while illegal, is not taken as seriously as hacking into the Department of Defense’s network.
- What information was accessed – the unauthorized access of any personal information is illegal; however, accessing information such as financial data, government files, or corporate records can elevate a hacking crime to a higher level than it might be if he defendant simply accessed school papers or family photo albums.
- What the information was used for after being accessed – gaining entry to personal information is a crime but using that information for objectives such as financial gain, to steal someone’s identity, or to embezzle funds makes it a more serious crime.
- The presence of threats or additional action by the defendant – once inside a computer network or system, if an individual then makes threats to a person or to the government, or uses that access to stalk or harass someone it can result in more serious charges being filed against the individual.
For anyone with an interest in, and an aptitude for, computer technology the temptation to hack into someone else’s computer system is strong. Often, it becomes a personal challenge to see if you can hack into a purportedly secure government system. Federal and State prosecutors treat these security breaches seriously, rather than as simple pranks, and often seek lengthy terms of imprisonment.
If you have been charged with a hacking crime, at either the Federal or State level, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. Contact us at 617-492-0055 to schedule a free in-office consultation.
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