Federal Computer Crimes and Federal Computer Hacking Offenses: Understanding the Magnitude of 18 USC 1030 Beyond the Celebrity Scandal and Photo Leak

It may be great tabloid fodder for the foreseeable future, but hacking computers, PCs, mobile devices and Apple’s ICloud is a very dangerous and risky pastime.  Sure, sharing intimate and naked photos of Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton and Kirsten Dunst may be good for sophomoric kicks and gossip sites. Arguably, many of the images of the also-rans and lesser knowns who were exposed may have secondary and post embarrassment value in boosting their respective profiles. Irrespective of the consequences to the victims both “good” and bad, computer hacking is a serious Federal crime with equally serious punishment. Make no mistake. You need not be the anonymous celebrity hacker to feel the power and wrath of law enforcement from Federal agents to prosecutors. There will be few, if any, Federal judges who will not come down hard with bail upon your arrest or punish you severely at your sentencing should you be convicted of a computer hacking offense. If nothing else is clear, you and your criminal lawyer will have a long road ahead if you are accused, the target, or a subject of a computer hacking offense. If prosecutors have successfully executed search warrants and found materials on your computers, tracked IP information, and obtained any statements from you during the course of their investigation, your predicament can easily go from bad to worse.

The following blog entry will address some of the potential Federal crimes that the anonymous celebrity hacker  – or anyone – would face if prosecuted in Manhattan’s Southern District of New York, Brooklyn’s Eastern District of New York, Newark’s District of New Jersey or any other Federal jurisdiction.

Targets and subjects of a Federal Computer Crime investigation would be prosecuted under Title 18, United States Code, Section 1030, commonly referred to as the Federal Computer Hacking Statute.  Section 1030 has many subsections and variations; however, at its core, the statute makes it illegal to access anyone else’s computer without that person’s permission or authority. Just accessing another’s computer is a misdemeanor – punishable by up to one year in jail and a $100,000 fine. However, if someone accesses a computer with the intent of defrauding another and steals over $5,000, the charge is increased to a felony and is punishable by 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. If the person previous has been convicted of Federal computer hacking, he faces up to 10 years in prison. If the computer hacking results in damage to the computer or loss to the victim, the crime is a felony and can be punished by 5, 10, or even 20 years in prison; depending on the extent of the damage or loss.

With regard to the stealing and sharing of intimate photos of public figures, it may at first appear that only the misdemeanor crime under Section 1030(a)(2) [intentional access of a computer without authorization and obtains information from any protected computer if the conduct involved interstate or foreign communication] applies.  However, closer evaluation of the statute reveals another subsection that will likely put any defendant in more significant hot water.  Under Section 1030(a)(5)(A)(i), if the hacker knowingly causes the transmission of a program, code or command, and as a result causes damage to the host  or “protected” computer, the hacker will now be facing upwards of 10 years in prison.  And “damage” is not what you might think – under the statute (Section 1030(e)(8)) the term “damage” means any impairment to the integrity or availability of data, a program, a system or information.  In other words, just about any hacking causes damage under the law; giving prosecutors immense discretion in how and what to charge – from a misdemeanor with a maximum of 1 year in jail to a felony with a maximum of 10 years in prison.  So you can see that even a hacker engaged in sophomoric kicks or “one-upsmanship” can find himself in the middle of a very public and damaging Federal investigation.  In addition, as long as one of the computers was in the United States, it doesn’t even matter where the hacking took place—the long arm of the Federal government will be able to reach the perpetrator.

Whether the “Celebrity Hacker” is apprehended by Federal agents or not, anyone engaged in computer hacking is playing with fire – it may seem harmless at first, but can quickly get out of hand.  If you do find yourself in such a situation, it will be critical to educate yourself on and retain knowledgeable legal counsel well versed in Federal Computer Crimes.

Saland Law PC is a New York criminal defense firm representing clients who are under investigation or have been arrested for Federal White Collar crimes including Computer Hacking and other Computer Crimes in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and beyond. In addition to representing the accused, Saland Law PC represents victims of computer related cybercrime by preparing sensitive cases prior to presentation to law enforcement or attempting to resolve those cases outside the criminal justice system and public eye.

Founded by former Manhattan prosecutors, the Federal criminal defense attorneys and partners at Saland Law PC collectively served as prosecutor’s in the Eastern District of New York, District of New Jersey, Main Justice and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office prior to founding the law practice.



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