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What Are the Criminal Penalties for Hacking?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

Every time you turn around, some company or the government is getting hacked. Or someone you know is having their credit card information or entire identity stolen.

From accessing a computer without permission to stealing personal information and online bullying, there are a range of computer crimes that are often collectively referred to as "hacking." So what are the possible penalties if hackers get caught?

Federal Computer Crime Laws

Because most hacks takes place via the Internet, the federal government can prosecute hackers and the Department of Justice has a wide range of federal statutes by which to prosecute computer crimes. There are federal laws against wiretapping (which apply to illegally intercepting information on the Internet) and wire fraud (which apply to using the Internet to commit fraud). Violations of the wiretap act can carry prison terms of five years per violation, and a single act of wire fraud could lead to 20 years in prison.

But most of the federal hacking statutes are located in 18 U.S. Code Section 1030, which covers computer fraud and related activities and prohibits everything from damaging a computer to trafficking in passwords. The majority of the violations of Section 1030 can carry fines and prisons sentences of 10 years. The fines are usually dependent upon how much money was stolen or the overall financial damage of the hack, and multiple convictions can double prison sentences.

State Computer Crime Laws

Every state also has its own computer crime laws to cover hacking, and the specific prohibitions and penalties can vary from state to state. In addition, most states have specific identity theft laws that prohibit illegally accessing or using another's personal information without permission. As with the federal laws, state fines for identity theft and other computer crimes vary depending on the amount stolen, and could include restitution not only to the person whose identity was stolen, but to companies that need to fix the damage caused by being hacked.

The penalties for hacking can range from six years for "sextortion" to 334 years for stealing and selling people's credit card information. If you've been charged with hacking or another computer related crime, you should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

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