Computer Hacking

Federal Computer Hacking – 18 U.S. Code § 1030

This involves any time an individual is committing a crime that could be a federal crime by using a computer; they will probably be charged under Section 1030 of the United State Codes – “Fraud and related activity in connection with computers.”

Computer hacking typically refers to gaining unauthorized access to a computer system to steal or alter data. Internet crimes like theft often involve hacking a computer to get access to a private network of a business or organization.

Computer hacking and closely related internet crimes frequently cross state lines because the computers are in different states, which means these types of fraud-related crimes are prosecuted in a federal court.

In other words, “computer hacking” is illegally using a computer in an attempt to access another computer without authorization to commit a fraud crime or cause some harm.

A federal crime of computer hacking is typically prosecuted under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The provisions under 18 U.S.C. § 1030 include several different types of computer crimes, which makes this a commonly used statute by federal prosecutors.

Federal Computer Hacking - 18 U.S. Code § 1030

In many federal computer hacking cases, it involves unlawful access to a U.S. government, business, or personal computer, when there is an intent to cause harm, commit fraud, or obtain anything of value. It should be noted. However, most computer hacking cases are prosecuted in a state criminal court.

The closely related term “cybercrime” is connected to computer hacking and often applies to various computer crimes. As stated, while a state-level criminal court prosecutes most computer hacking cases, there are situations where federal criminal charges will be pursued for cybercrimes and computer hacking.

Again, computer hacking is generally described as the act of unlawfully using a computer to gain access, attempting to access another computer to get information, or committing a fraud-related offense. This illegal act includes a situation where someone hacks a computer to get someone's personal information, financial accounts, credit card information, and more.

For example, let's say an employee of a company uses their computer at work to get access to confidential personal information on their customers and then uses that information to commit identity theft or another type of fraud crime. The employee could face charges of 18 U.S.C. § 1030 computer hacking in this scenario.

It should be noted that violating federal computer hacking laws could occur in many different ways. For example, you are sending an email with a malicious virus with the intent to get access to a computer.

You don't have to complete the process of illegally hacking a computer to be charged with federal computer hacking. In other words, the attempt is sufficient to be charged under the 18 U.S.C. § 1030 statute.

There are all sorts of different offenses that can be committed by way of a computer.  I usually see it where there's fraudulent activity — whether with a bank or some other computer-related offense. Then the person will be charged under Section 1030 of the U.S. Code, and the Assistant United States Attorney will prosecute their case.

There can also be enhancements depending on how much money is taken by the person — versus hundreds, versus thousands, versus millions of dollars.  That's going to be a big difference in exactly how that person is prosecuted, what they're charged for, and how much time they end up serving in federal custody. Let's review this law further below. 

Fraud and Related Activity Using a Computer

Under 18 U.S.C. § 1030, it lists many different federal statutes that might apply to prosecuting a cybercrime across the United States. However, a federal prosecutor will typically use specific statutes to pursue criminal charges for a computer-related offense.

However, in federal computer hacking cases, prosecutors will typically pursue charges under 18 U.S.C. § 1030 because it covers many different types of activity of what could be considered an illegal computer crime. As noted, this law makes federal crime to gain access to a protected computer without consent when the intent is to commit fraud or to cause harm.

Most federal computer hacking cases include a situation when somebody has been accused of hacking into a government computer or hacking into a computer to steal something of value.

It also includes hacking into someone's personal or business computer to commit identity theft or get their financial information or even hacking to destroy files or to cause damage to the computer system.

In most 18 U.S.C. § 1030 criminal prosecutions described under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the illegal conduct will involve specific behavior.  The most common include:

  • Unlawful computer access with the specific intent to commit fraud
  • Accessing a protected computer with authorization
  • Engaging in the trafficking of computer passwords with the intent to defraud
  • Accessing a computer with intent to damage or destroy files

Federal prosecutors will pursue criminal charges for violating computer hacking laws against anyone who is just making an attempt or is involved in a conspiracy to engage in computer hacking.

The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA)

The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), enacted in 1986, was initially designed to protect government computers. However, this statute was expanded to prosecute any accused person illegally accessing businesses, saved, or personal computers.

18 U.S.C. § 1030 describes a “protected computer” as any computer connected to a government agency's Internet, provided to an employee, computer in a public library, or essentially any computer with Internet access.

To be criminally charged with federal computer hacking, somebody must access a “protected computer” without authorization or exceed their mandate by improperly using the computer.

The crimes related to 18 U.S.C. § 1030 federal computer hacking include conspiracy to commit computer hacking, distributing confidential computer material, sending many SPAM emails, and unlawful access to stored communications.

Anyone facing federal criminal charges under 18 U.S.C. § 1030 computer hacking laws might also face separate but related federal authorities of any of the following.

18 U.S.C. § 1029 – Credit Card Fraud
18 U.S.C. § 1028 – Identity Theft
18 U.S.C. § 875 – Extortion
18 U.S.C. § 641 – Embezzlement
18 U.S.C. § 1341 – Mail Fraud
18 U.S.C. § 1343 – Wire Fraud

Also, there are “cyberstalking” laws that prohibit using a computer to harass or make threats to another person.

Penalties for 18 U.S.C. § 1030 Computer Hacking Conviction

There are certain mandatory minimums.  If you take enough money using a computer, you could end up in prison for a minimum of two, five, or ten years.  These are all things that can be charged against individuals who are using computers to commit crimes.

Federal computer hacking charges under 18 U.S.C. § 1030 could be filed as either a misdemeanor or felony offense. The federal prosecutor will typically make this decision based on the circumstances, motivation for the illegal conduct, and severity of harm caused.

If you only attempted to access a protected computer, the case will generally be filed as a misdemeanor crime.

If you hacked a computer for financial gain, to commit another crime, or to get information valued over $5,000, the case would be filed as a felony.

If you are convicted of 18 U.S.C. § 1030 computer hacking as a felony, the penalties include up to 10 years in federal prison and a $10,000 fine. In addition, it should be noted specific enhancements are increasing the penalties. For example, if the computer hacking was done with the intent to commit another crime, such as identity theft or credit card fraud.

The reasons there are extra enhancements related to computers have to do with sophistication — has to do with people taking advance of using computers.  It also makes it much more complex and challenging for the federal government to prosecute these cases when computers are involved because they need experts.  It takes time.  A lot of times, things can be masked or cloaked by using a computer, plus more damage can be done when a computer is used to commit a federal crime, especially in one of these fraud-related offenses.

Sometimes it takes months and even years for the feds to figure it out.  So, as a result, they have to expend significant resources and put a lot of manpower into some of these computer crimes occurring across the country. Therefore, these crimes are punished harshly.  People are smacked with huge fines.

They're looking at multiple years in prison and all kinds of restrictions.  Once they get out, they'll be put on supervised release.  A federal probation officer will keep an eye on them, and they will make sure that these people are seriously prosecuted.

They won't let them use a bank account.  They won't let them use computers.  They'll do all sorts of things to ensure they can block these people from damaging their reputations and credit.  These types of crimes are prosecuted very seriously by the federal government.

Fighting an 18 U.S.C. § 1030 Federal Computer Hacking Case

So, please give me a call if you have a federal computer fraud-related offense and are being prosecuted according to U.S.C. Section 1030.  I've been doing this for twenty-five years.  I've had a lot of success at keeping people out of federal prison and resolving these cases in the best possible manner.

The burden of proof is the responsibility of the federal prosecutor. They must be able to prove all the elements of the crime beyond any reasonable doubt. For example, in an 18 U.S.C. § 1030 federal computer hacking case, the crucial factor for a prosecutor is showing that you knowingly and intentionally hacked a computer.

Thus, we might be able to make a reasonable argument that you didn't intentionally access the computer without authorization or that the computer's access didn't rise to the level of hacking.

Computer-related crimes are broad and require extensive proof of access to the computer terminal and who was responsible. Suppose you are facing charges that involve computer crime, as your federal criminal lawyer. In that case, we will develop the best defenses to assert for you and make every effort to get you favorable results.

General Information:

The computer may be the source of the crime or may be used as a tool to commit another crime. In either case, a federal attorney is essential and makes a difference in the outcome of your case. Our lawyers have the necessary skill, experience, and knowledge to represent you with all competence and diligence to get you the best results possible.

Most of the evidence for computer crimes derives from hard drives, emails, and history. Still, by asserting defenses in your favor, we may be able to prove that other people have used the computer or that the information may have been implanted into the hard drive from another location; the defenses are available, and as your federal lawyer, our job is to see what reasons apply to you and then after strongly and persistently assert them on your behalf.

Computer crimes are considered both property and privacy offenses, and the Feds will do all they can to charge you with whatever they can. Our federal defense attorneys will take on your case in full force and have any charges that do not have sufficient evidence dismissed. We will do everything we can to get you the best possible results.

Contact the experienced Los Angeles federal criminal defense lawyers at the Hedding Law Firm and set up a free face-to-face consultation if you are facing federal computer crimes.

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