Overview of federal computer crimes

by Sami Azhari on November 4, 2010

Federal Law | Computer Crimes | Penalty for Hacking | Unlawful Access Through Internet | Sentencing Guidelines

The United States government prosecutes computer crimes through a catch-all provision in 18 USC 1030. This statute was most recently amended by the Patriot Act in 2001. Its purpose, as stated by Congress, is to protect America from cybercrime.

The law punishes 7 types of computer crimes, with each having its own penalty:

  • Breach of national security or espionage. Felony with sentence of not more than 10 years imprisonment. See 18 USC 1030(a)(1).
  • Illegally obtaining financial information. Misdemeanor sentence of 1 year imprisonment. If committed for financial gain, not more than 5 years prison. See 18 USC 1030(a)(2).
  • Accessing a nonpublic computer from the federal government. Misdemeanor sentence of 1 year prison. See 18 USC 1030(a)(3).
  • Theft from protected computer systems for the purpose of committing fraud. Felony offense with sentence of not more than 5 years prison. See 18 USC 1030(a)(4).
  • Hacking into a protected computer and installing code or other malicious software to cause damage. Felony with prison not to exceed 10 years. See 18 USC 1030(a)(5).
  • Distribution of protected passwords (eg, password trafficking). Misdemeanor offense with sentence of not more than one year incarceration. See 18 USC 1030(a)(6).
  • Extortion by threatening to harm a protected computer. Felony offense with penalty of not more than 10 years prison. See 18 USC 1030(a)(7).

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