The term "cybercrime" encompasses a wide range of criminal activities committed via computers or the Internet.
While many states have laws regulating cybercrime, many of these offenses are prosecuted at the federal level because the internet reaches across state lines and international boundaries and is transmitted via interstate wiring structures.
The phrase “cybercrime” is often associated with computer hacking that can be applied to several types of computer crimes. State authorities prosecute many computer hacking cases, but there are situations where federal charges will be filed for computer hacking and other related cybercrimes.
Many federal computer hacking charges are prosecuted under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. 18 U.S.C. § 1030 covers the different types of computer crimes, and federal prosecutors often use this statute.
Because commerce on the internet almost always crosses state lines, cybercrimes involving fraud are usually charged as a federal crime. Most of these statutes are serious crimes carrying years in the Federal Bureau of Prisons for a first offense.
Further, federal law enforcement authorities could seize property they believe was used in or purchased with proceeds from the alleged fraud in many cases.
While some forms of cybercrime are more severe than others, most involve prison time if you are convicted at the federal level—in some cases, as much as 20-30 years.
Suffice it to say; that if you are accused of breaking federal cybercrime laws, you should take the charges seriously and hire legal counsel with specific experience in federal cybercrime charges. Our federal criminal attorneys will review this topic further below.
What Is a Cybercrime?
Cybercrime is a blanket term used to describe criminal activity online. This can include anything from hacking and phishing to Internet fraud and identity theft.
Some cybercrimes are committed to causing damage or disrupting service, while others are motivated by financial gain, whether by fraud or by trafficking illegal products.
In many cases, cybercriminals target large organizations to steal sensitive data or extort money; however, individuals can also be victims of cybercrime. Federal agencies also now include personally damaging offenses such as cyberbullying and cyberstalking in cybercrime.
What Are the Common Types of Cybercrime?
The federal government investigates and prosecutes a wide range of cybercriminal activity. Among the most common include the following.
Internet Fraud and Theft can take many forms, including:
- Hacking computers via viruses and malware to mine personal financial information, access bank accounts, credit cards, etc.,
- Phishing and "spoof" websites—sending alarming emails that appear to be official, trying to convince recipients to give up their personal/financial information,
- Internet scams—fake business opportunities, Ponzi schemes, and other tricks to con people into giving money.
Online Drug Crimes While traditional drug trafficking crimes can be committed online, such as ordering illegal drugs from a dark web marketplace, other cybercrimes are related to drugs. These include:
- Creating or selling synthetic or counterfeit drugs online, including K2,
- "Doctor shopping"—using the Internet to obtain multiple prescriptions for controlled substances.
- Selling prescription drugs online without a license.
Cyberattacks typically involve distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks by flooding an organization's servers with requests until the system shuts down. They may also include hacking into a system to cause mayhem, e.g., taking over the website, shutting down services, injecting viruses, etc.
Most federal computer hacking offenses are prosecuted under 18 U.S.C. § 1030, covering a wide variety of illegal computer crimes. This statute makes it a federal offense to access a protected computer without consent with the intent to cause harm or commit a fraud crime.
Federal computer hacking cases usually involve a scenario where somebody is accused of hacking a government computer, hacking a computer to steal something of value, hacking a personal or business computer to commit identity theft or acquire financial information, or hacking to cause damage or destroy files.
The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) was enacted in 1986 and was initially designed to protect government-operated computers. Still, this law has been dramatically expanded to prosecute someone accused of illegally accessing government, personal, or business computers for various reasons.
Child Pornography and Other Internet Sex Crimes are considered one of the most severe types of cybercrimes because it frequently involves the exploitation of children. Examples of sexual cybercrime include:
- Creating, selling, distributing, or possessing child pornography via computers,
- Using the Internet for prostitution and sex trafficking,
- Soliciting minors for sex via the internet.
- Lewdness via the Internet (i.e., exposing minors to lewd sexual images online)
Child pornography is considered a serious federal crime that victimizes children and typically results in severe legal punishments if convicted. The laws against child pornography are some of the strictest in the federal court system and are covered under 18 U.S.C. § 2252.
The sexual exploitation of children under 18 U.S.C. § 2251 is a separate federal offense that includes the production of child pornography. Anybody who attempts to induce, entice, or persuade a minor to engage in sexual conduct to make a video, picture, or other image is guilty of sexual exploitation.
What Are the Penalties for a Conviction?
The penalties for federal cybercrime offenses will vary depending on the severity of the crime and any aggravating or mitigating factors.
However, you can expect to face fines or prison time if convicted at the federal level. Lower-level crimes, including crimes of intent without actually carrying out the offense, may result in a federal misdemeanor conviction resulting in up to a year in prison.
However, most cybercrimes are considered felonies punishable by anywhere from 5-20 years in prison per offense. Penalties for child pornography and sex trafficking cybercrimes can reach between 15-30 years per count—and if someone dies as a result of your alleged cybercrime, you could be facing life imprisonment.
What to Do If You Are Being Investigated for Cybercrimes?
Federal cybercrime cases are complex, and the stakes are high—you could be facing serious prison time if convicted.
Because cybercrime is considered one of the biggest threats to public safety at this time, federal prosecutors are becoming more aggressive in seeking out, investigating, and prosecuting cybercrime.
Cybercrimes and other related internet crimes are aggressively prosecuted, and a conviction can be life-altering. Thus, if you are under investigation for federal cybercrimes, you need to consult with an experienced federal criminal lawyer as soon as possible.
In other words, if you find out you're being investigated on possible cybercrime charges—or if an indictment is imminent—your best chance at a favorable outcome is to hire an experienced cybercrime defense attorney.
The federal prosecutor has the burden of proof to obtain a conviction, meaning they must prove all the elements of the crime beyond any reasonable doubt. The primary factors in cybercrimes are that you knowingly and intentionally committed the crime. A good attorney can employ many strategies early to reduce your risks. These include:
- Conducting their investigation into the allegations against you to determine their merit,
- Examining the evidence to see if it was legally obtained and admissible in court,
- Working with experts to contest the prosecution's case,
- Negotiating with prosecutors for a reduced charge or sentence.
Perhaps we can argue that you unintentionally accessed a computer without consent, or the computer access didn't go to the level of hacking. Perhaps we can argue that your computer was accessed by another person who committed the cybercrime, or maybe you are the victim of a false allegation and wrongful arrest.
Eisner Gorin LLP is a criminal defense law firm that represents people nationwide for all types of federal crimes. You can reach us by calling (877) 781-1570 or filling out the contact form.