Computer Hacking

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

Computer hacking typically refers to unlawfully using a computer to attempt to access another without consent to cause harm or commit fraud. 18 U.S.C. 1030 defines many computer crimes, and federal prosecutors often use this statute. Federal computer hacking charges are typically prosecuted under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act

A federal computer hacking case often involves illegal access to a government, business, or personal computer with the intent to cause harm, commit fraud, or obtain something of value. Still, it could be prosecuted at the state level.

Computer hacking cases frequently include hacking a computer to obtain someone's personal information, financial accounts, credit card information, or government records. It also includes sending emails with malicious viruses to gain access to a computer and gaining unauthorized access to a computer system to steal or alter data.

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

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

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. 

Suppose 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. In that case, the employee could face charges of 18 U.S.C. 1030 computer hacking in this scenario.

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 18 U.S.C. 1030.

All sorts of offenses can be committed through a computer, but usually, there is fraudulent activity, whether with a bank or some other computer-related crime. 

There can also be enhancements depending on how much money the person takes. That will be a big difference in how that person is prosecuted, what they're charged for, and how much time they serve in federal custody. Let's go over 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 typically uses specific statutes to pursue criminal charges for a computer-related offense.

Fraud and Related Activity Using a Computer

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, a computer in a public library, or 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 federal computer hacking include conspiracy to commit computer hacking, distributing confidential computer material, sending many SPAM emails, and unlawful access to stored communications. In addition, anyone facing federal criminal charges under 18 U.S.C.1030 might also face separate but related federal authorities of the following.

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

What Are the Penalties for 18 U.S.C. 1030?

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

Federal computer hacking charges under 18 U.S.C. 1030 could be filed as 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. The penalties could include the following:

  • 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.

Penalties for Computer Hacking

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.

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. 

Once someone is released, 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 prevent these people from damaging their reputations and credit.

What Are the Defenses for 18 U.S.C. 1030? 

Computer hacking crimes are aggressively prosecuted, and a conviction can be life-altering. Thus, if you are under investigation, you need to consult with an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.

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.

Defenses for Federal Computer Hacking Charges

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

Other potential defenses include that you didn't illegally access the computer or believed you had the authorization to access the computer and obtain the information.  Perhaps we could argue that your computer was accessed by someone else who actually committed the hacking, or maybe you are the victim of a false accusation. 

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

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.

You can contact our law firm for a free case evaluation by phone or through the contact form. We provide legal representation throughout the United States on federal criminal matters. The Hedding Law Firm is located in Los Angeles, CA. 

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