Computer Hacking Defense Lawyers

Computer hacking generally refers to an attempt to exploit a computer system or private network to gain access. While this can be done legally, when given consent, in order to test system security, unauthorized access for the purpose of fraud or to cause harm is illegal.

As hacking often involves the internet, it is commonly prosecuted as a federal crime, but there are state laws to prosecute it as well. Federal cases can involve illegal access to a government, business, or personal computer with the intent to cause harm, commit fraud, or obtain something of value. If you are facing federal or state investigation or charges for computer hacking, fraud, or any cyber crime, you should contact our lawyers immediately. We have the experience needed in both federal and state court to handle these complex cases and build an effective defense.

a hooded person with an overlay of code segments, to signify a person computer hacking

Federal Computer Hacking Laws

Computer hacking is most often charged under 18 U.S.C. § 1030, “Fraud and Related Activity with Computers”. This statute covers a wide-variety of computer crimes. These crimes all involve the intentional unauthorized access to a computer or network, such as the following:

  • Fraud: Obtaining unauthorized access to a computer with intent to defraud others of something of value. 
  • Extortion: Threats to cause damage or obtain protected information in exchange or money or other things of value.
  • Information Theft: obtaining unauthorized information from a financial institution or government agency.
  • Malicious Software: Knowingly causing the transmission of a program, information, code or command (i.e. “malware” or a “virus”) that causes damage to the computer, without authorization.
  • National Defense and Foreign Relations: Unauthorized access to information that the US government determined requires protection for national security, foreign relations, or otherwise must be restricted, which could harm to US if released. 
  • Network Traffic and Transfers: attempted to defraud or interfere with transfers of information, money, etc.

Federal Penalties for Computer Hacking

Penalties for a conviction of computer hacking are complex and severe. Terms of imprisonment depend on which category of hacking the act falls into, as detailed above, as well as whether the defendant has a prior hacking conviction, as follows:

National Defense and Foreign Relations Hacking Penalties

As you may expect, the most serious hacking crime involves unauthorized access to US government information pertaining to national security. A first-time conviction of this is punished with imprisonment up to 10 years and a fine. If the convicted person had a previous conviction of any federal hacking crime, they could face up to 20 years imprisonment.

Unauthorized Access to Protected Computers and Network Traffic Penalties

A first offense is punished with up to one years imprisonment, a fine, or both. If the fraud was committed for the purpose of commercial advantage or financial gain, to further criminal acts, or to obtain information valued more than $5,000, the punishment is up to 5 years imprisonment. For any of the above, if the defendant had a prior federal hacking conviction, they can serve up to 10 years imprisonment.

Extortion and Fraud

If the unauthorized access is used to extort others or commit fraud for the purpose of obtaining something of value, the punishment is a fine or up to 5 years imprisonment for a first-time offense. If the defendant has a prior federal hacking conviction, they can face up to 10 years imprisonment.

Malware and Information Damage

A first-time offense for causing damage to computers is punished up to 5 years imprisonment when the damage involves any of the following:

  • Damage to computers used by government departments of justice, national defense or national security.
  • Damage affecting 10 or more government or financial institution computers during any 1-year period.
  • Loss to a victim during any one year period aggregating at least $5,000.
  • Modification or impairment of medical information, examination, diagnosis or treatment to at least one person.
  • Physical injury to any person
  • Threats to public health or safety.

If the defendant has a prior federal hacking conviction, they can face up to 10 years imprisonment.

North Carolina Computer Fraud Laws

Like with federal hacking crimes, North Carolina law identifies various ways a person can be guilty of hacking and assigns penalties based on the severity of the act. The penalties take into consideration the type of computer accessed, and damages caused or the defendants unlawful gain resulting from unauthorized access.

Accessing a Computer without Authorization

A person is guilty of this crime when they willfully acquire unauthorized access or cause to be accessed, a computer or any computer system or network.

A conviction of this crime is punished as a class 1 misdemeanor. If the computer belonged to a government entity, this crime is punished as a class H felony.

Accessing a government computer to unlawfully obtain educational or vocational testing materials, scores or grades is punished as a class 1 misdemeanor.

Accessing a Computer to Obtain Property

A person is guilty of this crime when they unlawfully access or cause to be accessed, a computer, network, or any computer system for any of the following purposes:

  • Executing a scheme to defraud.
  • Obtaining property or services.

A conviction is punished as a class G felony if the scheme resulted in damages or stolen property is worth more than $1,000. If it is worth less than $1,000, it is punished as a class 1 misdemeanor. If the computer belonged to a government entity, this crime is punished as a class F felony.

Computer Trespass

A person is guilty of this crime when they use a computer, computer system or network without authorization with the intent to do any of the following:

  • Alter or erase computer data.
  • Cause a computer to malfunction.
  • Falsely identify or forge emails with the intent to defraud the recipients.
  • Physically damage the computer.
  • Temporarily or permanently disable or alter computer data, program or software.

If no damage is accounted for, this crime is punished as a class 3 misdemeanor. If there are damages that do not exceed $2,500, it is punished as a class 1 misdemeanor. Damages exceeding $2,500 will result in a punishment of a class I Felony.

Defending Against Computer Hacking Charges

These cases are complex and require thorough review by an experienced lawyer. Your lawyer should be able to:

  • Understand and present what the defendant was and was not aware of.
  • Convey to the jury what the applicable laws are for these cases, dispelling any confusion or conflation with other crimes.
  • Thorough review of computer access records, in consultation with relevant experts.
  • Having an expert review and rebuke inaccurate and prejudiced impressions created by witnesses or the prosecution.

Our lawyers have successfully represented these cases and know how to carefully structure a defense based on the facts of the case. Most importantly, we are exceptionally skilled at taking these cases to trial, as we know the tactics used by prosecution that often push the defendant into a plea-bargaining position before a trial begins. If you would like to learn more about how we an help, or request a consultation with us, then leave us a message or call us today.

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