Unauthorized computer access, often known as hacking, is a criminal conduct in which someone uses a computer to willfully obtain access to data in a system without having authority to do so. Hacking is a violation of both California and federal law that may result in severe consequences. Each state has its own laws regarding hacking, so before you perform any hacker activities be sure to understand how violating these laws can affect you.
In the United States, the federal government has the power to regulate cybercrime. The National Security Agency (NSA) is responsible for monitoring foreign intelligence threats to the country while the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) investigates domestic crimes involving computers. There are also several other agencies within the U.S. government that may have jurisdiction over certain types of hackers. These include the Department of Defense (DoD), which handles crimes committed with military-related equipment, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which deals with attacks on government systems.
In addition to legal issues, there are security concerns with hacking. When you breach a barrier such as a firewall or antivirus program to access private information, you put yourself at risk of infection by malicious programs such as viruses. A hacker who gains access to a company network could steal sensitive information or cause damage to computer systems by executing command-line instructions or accessing privileged accounts. They might even delete important files if they're angry about not being given free ice cream.
Hacking (or, more formally, "unauthorized computer access") is defined under California law as deliberately gaining unauthorized access to any computer, computer system, or network. It is often classified as a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in county prison. However, due to the nature of hacking, many jurisdictions also include a clause that increases the severity of the offense if the hacker causes damage to allow for increased punishment. For example, if a hacker breaches security to obtain credit card information which he then uses himself, this would be considered fraud and likely lead to additional charges.
In addition to state laws, federal laws also apply to hackers. These include the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), which makes it illegal to intentionally access a computer without authorization and includes a provision for enhanced penalties if the hacker causes damage. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) provides that anyone who violates an individual's privacy by viewing their email content can be charged with a crime. There are four ways to view email content: directly, through a web browser, via an RSS feed, or through an IM service. Email providers such as Gmail protect users by not making available the contents of users' inboxes unless they have been given permission to do so. For this reason, most people need to take special steps to reveal the content of their emails - such as creating passwords for each account and updating services when security updates are released - to ensure that their personal information is not exposed inadvertently.
Learn more about the laws, punishments, and defenses to the allegation of unauthorized computer access in the sections below.
Computer hacking is a crime under 18 U.S.C. SS 1030. The term "computer hacking" often refers to the criminal use of a computer to attempt to gain unauthorized access to another computer in order to inflict harm or conduct fraud. The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act is used to prosecute the majority of federal computer hacking crimes. State laws also exist to deal with this type of activity; however, not all states choose to adopt the language of the CFAA when defining their own hacking statutes.
In addition to criminal penalties, individuals who commit computer hacking can be subject to civil actions as well. Most commonly, people who suffer from computer theft may bring a claim under the Federal Trade Commission Act or the Copyright Act. Under those laws, individuals who are injured by computer hackers can file suit to recover any actual damages they may have suffered (such as lost sales or revenue) as well as any additional damages that are allowed by law (such as punitive damages).
In some cases, it is possible that someone could go so far as to hire someone else to conduct computer hacking activities on their behalf. For example, a company might hire an outside party to conduct cyber-attacks against its competitors in order to obtain sensitive information about these businesses. In such cases, the company would be able to avoid any liability if the attacks were successfully conducted because it would be impossible to determine who was responsible for the crimes.