Federal Crime of Computer Hacking – 18 U.S.C. § 1030

The phrase “computer hacking” normally refers to illegally using a computer to make an attempt to access another computer without consent to cause harm or commit fraud.

Most federal computer hacking charges are prosecuted under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. 18 U.S.C. § 1030 covers many different types of computer crimes and this statute is often used by federal prosecutors.

A federal case of computer hacking usually involves illegal access to a government, business or personal computer with intent to cause harm, commit fraud, or obtain something of value. It should be noted that computer hacking can be prosecuted at both the state and federal level.

The phrase “cybercrime” is associated with computer hacking that can be applied to many types of computer crimes. Most computer hacking cases are prosecuted by state authorities, but there are specific circumstances where federal charges will be filed for computer hacking and related cybercrimes.

As stated, computer hacking is an act of illegally using a computer to access, or attempt to access, another computer to obtain information or commit a fraud crime. This could include hacking a computer to obtain another person’s information, financial accounts, credit card information, or government records.

An example 18 U.S.C. § 1030 federal computer hacking includes a situation where an employee uses their work computer in order to gain access to confidential information about their customers. Next, they use the illegally obtained information to commit fraud or identity theft.

Violating federal laws on computer hacking can occur in many forms. It includes sending emails with malicious viruses in order to gain access to a computer. It should be noted that even in a situation where you don’t follow through the illegal hacking of government or business computer, you can still face federal charges for conspiracy to commit computer hacking.

To give readers a better understanding of federal computer hacking laws, our federal criminal defense attorneys are providing an overview below.

18 U.S.C. § 1030 Fraud and Related Activity with Computers

As noted above, there are several federal statutes that can apply to prosecuting various cybercrimes across the United States, but federal prosecutors will use certain laws to pursue criminal charges for computer crimes.

Most federal computer hacking offenses are pursued under 18 U.S.C. § 1030 which covers a wide variety of illegal computer crimes. This statute makes it a federal crime to access a protected computer without consent with intent to cause harm or commit a fraud crime.

Federal computer hacking cases normally involve a situation where someone is accused of hacking a hacking a government computer, hacking a computer to steal anything of value, hacking a personal or business computer to commit identity theft or obtain financial information, or hacking to cause damage or destroy files.

Most criminal prosecutions under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act will fall into a certain type of behavior, such as:

  • Unauthorized computer access with intent to defraud (“phishing”)
  • Unauthorized access into a protected computer
  • Trafficking computer passwords with intent to defraud
  • Obtaining confidential national security information
  • Damaging a computer or destroying files

As noted, federal prosecutors can still pursue charges for alleged violations of computer hacking laws against anyone who is attempting or conspiring to engage in computer hacking.

Computer Fraud and Abuse Act

The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) was enacted in 1986 was first designed to protect government operated computers, but the statute has broadly expanded to prosecute anyone accused of illegally accessing government, personal or business computer many reasons.

Under 18 U.S.C. § 1030, a “protected computer” is any computer connected to the Internet belonging to a government agency, or provided to an employee, a public library computer, or even any computer with Internet access.

In order to be charged with federal computer hacking, someone has to access a protected computer without authorization, or they exceeded their authorization by using the computer improperly.

Related crimes to federal computer hacking include conspiracy to commit computer hacking, possession, duplication, or distribution of confidential computer material, sending huge amounts of SPAM emails, and illegally accessing stored communications.

It should be noted that anyone who is facing criminal charges under 18 U.S.C. § 1030 federal computer hacking laws, could also face separate, but computer related, charges of:

18 U.S.C. § 1028 – Identity Theft
18 U.S.C. § 1029 – Credit Card Fraud
18 U.S.C. § 641 – Embezzlement
18 U.S.C. § 1341 – Mail Fraud
18 U.S.C. § 1343 – Wire Fraud
18 U.S.C. § 1344 – Bank Fraud
18 U.S.C. § 472 – Counterfeiting

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

Under 18 U.S.C. § 1030, federal computer hacking charged can be filed as either a misdemeanor or felony offense. The decision will normally depend of the circumstances of the case, primary motivation of the conduct, and the level of harm it caused.

It should be noted that just attempting to gain access to a protected computer can be filed as a misdemeanor offense. If you hacked a computer for financial gain, or to commit another crime, or to obtain information valued over $5,000, you will face felony charges.

If convicted of a felony offense, you are facing up to ten years in a federal prison, and a fine up to $10,000. There are some enhancements that will increase the penalties, such as hacking a computer with specific intent to commit another offense, like identity theft.

Defending Federal Computer Hacking Charges

Computer hacking and other related internet crimes are normally aggressively prosecuted and a conviction can be life-altering. It’s important to note that you if you are under investigation for federal computer hacking, you need to consult with an experienced federal criminal lawyer as soon as possible.

The federal prosecutor has the burden of proof to obtain a conviction. This means they will have to prove all the elements of the crime beyond any reasonable doubt. The primary factor in a computer hacking case is that you knowingly and intentionally hacked a computer.

There are several ways we can fight an 18 U.S.C. § 1030 federal computer hacking case. We might be able to make an argument that you unintentionally accessed a computer without consent, or the computer access didn’t to the level of hacking.

Other potential defense include you didn’t illegally access the computer, or you had a reasonable belief you had authorization to access the computer and obtain the information.  Perhaps we could make an argument your computer was accessed by another person who actually committed the hacking, or maybe you are the victim of a false allegation.

If you are accused of illegally hacking a computer in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1030, call us to review the details of the case and legal options. We may be able to negotiate with the federal prosecutor for a favorable plea bargain or a case dismissal.

Eisner Gorin LLP is a criminal defense law firm who represents clients nationwide for all type of federal crimes. We are located at 1875 Century Park E #705, Los Angeles, CA 90067. We are also located in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles County at 14401 Sylvan St #112 Van Nuys, CA 91401. Contact us for a consultation at (877) 781-1570.