Cybercrime has emerged as a significant threat in the digital age. The term covers many illegal activities conducted via computer networks, systems, and the internet. These offenses range from state-level misdemeanors to federal crimes with substantial prison sentences. The landscape of computer crimes is ever-evolving, encompassing many illicit activities.
This article covers several serious crimes involving the use of computers, including:
- Distribution of child pornography
- Identity theft
Child Pornography and Internet Crimes
One of the most heinous cybercrimes is distributing and possessing child pornography. These criminal offenses violate federal and state law. Criminals caught engaging in such activities may face severe criminal charges. Law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, have dedicated units to combat child pornography and related criminal cases.
White Collar Crimes and Financial Gain
Many cybercrimes are white-collar crimes. They involve financial gain through illegal means. This includes wire fraud, extortion, and other related crimes. Today, traditional scams through mail and phone calls have migrated to the online world. New cyber scams pop up all the time. Types of internet fraud include:
- Wire fraud uses electronic communications to deceive individuals or entities for financial gain. Communications include emails, phone calls, or messaging apps. Wire fraud schemes can be elaborate and advanced, making them difficult to trace.
- Identity theft is stealing someone's personal information for financial gain.
- Credit card fraud is stolen credit card information used for unauthorized transactions.
- Extortion threatens to disclose sensitive or damaging information unless a ransom is paid.
- Phishing is a type of email fraud. Scammers send fake emails that look real. They intend to trick people into sharing their personal and financial information. These emails are often from trusted websites like PayPal, eBay, MSN, or Google. Phishing, like a fishing trip, is a gamble. Scammers use bait in the hope that it will lure people in.
Cyberbullying, Cyberstalking, and Related Activity
Cyberbullying and cyberstalking are two forms of cybercrime. Both focus on harassing people through electronic means. For example, text messages and social media platforms are often used to contact an unsuspecting target.
Cyberbullying involves using digital tools to intimidate, threaten, or harm someone emotionally. This could include:
- Sending hurtful messages
- Spreading false rumors
- Sharing embarrassing photos online
The aim is to torment the victim and cause emotional distress.
Cyberstalking goes a step further. It often involves a pattern of online harassment to intimidate or make the victim feel unsafe. This may include:
- Relentless messages
- Tracking someone's online activity
- Physical threats
These cybercrimes can leave deep emotional scars on victims. They impact victims' mental well-being and sometimes even their physical safety.
Recognizing and reporting cyberstalking and cyberbullying is essential to protect yourself and others.
Cyberattacks and Denial of Service
Cyberattacks are a broad category of cybercrimes. Cyberattacks include various malicious activities conducted over computer systems and networks. Cyberattacks come in various forms. One example is distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks or more sophisticated intrusions into government computer systems. These attacks can pose threats to national security and intellectual property. Perpetrators of cyberattacks can face severe consequences under federal law. Within this category, two forms of cyberattacks are computer viruses and computer hacking.
Computer viruses are harmful software that copy themselves and infect other computer systems or files. They can spread through email attachments, infected downloads, or compromised websites. Once inside a computer, they can cause damage, steal sensitive info, or make the system stop working. Being a victim of a computer virus can be devastating. Viruses can seriously harm your finances and reputation, whether you're an individual or a company.
Computer hacking is when someone accesses computer systems, networks, or data without permission. They do it for reasons like making money or spying. Hackers use harmful software or trick people into giving away information to get past online security. Hacking can take many forms. These intrusions can compromise national security, intellectual property, and confidential information. Perpetrators of computer hacking can face severe consequences under state and federal law.
Protection of Computer Systems and Networks
The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) focuses on safeguarding government and other protected computers. The CFAA is a law at the federal level criminalizing unauthorized access to computer systems. These terms are crucial in understanding how the CFAA helps protect computer systems and networks.
Computer Data Protection
One of the objectives of the CFAA is to protect computer data from unauthorized access and criminal activities. Computer data encompasses a variety of information stored electronically. Data includes:
- Personal documents
- Financial records
- Sensitive corporate data
- Government files
The CFAA makes it illegal for people to access or change this data without authorization. Unauthorized access to computer data can lead to criminal charges, depending on the intent and severity.
For instance, hacking into a person's email account to steal information violates the CFAA and can result in criminal charges. Hacking a company's database to steal proprietary data can also lead to serious legal consequences. The hacker could face criminal charges as well as civil litigation.
Protection of Stored Communications
The CFAA also protects stored communications. This includes:
- Instant messages
- Other electronic messages stored on computer systems or servers
It's important to know that the CFAA forbids unauthorized access to these communications. This part protects people's privacy. It ensures that electronic communications remain secure.
Federal Enforcement and Penalties
The CFAA grants federal government agencies the authority to investigate and prosecute cybercrimes. Offenders can face severe consequences under federal law, including substantial fines and imprisonment. The sentencing guidelines for CFAA violations vary depending on the nature and extent of the offense. Misdemeanor charges may apply in less severe cases. More serious breaches can result in felony charges and lengthy prison sentences. The CFAA also allows for civil lawsuits. Victims can seek damages and injunctive relief against those responsible for cybercrimes.
Why You Need a Criminal Defense Attorney
Cybercrimes are constantly changing. Criminals adapt to exploit weaknesses in computer technology and electronic communications. If you or someone you know is being investigated for a cybercrime, you should contact a criminal defense lawyer. In most states, computer crimes are felonies. That means there's a risk of serious jail or state prison sentences. You will want a criminal law attorney who can provide the aggressive representation needed for this type of crime.