As you are likely aware, the hacking of computer systems has been at the core of many news stories of late. These stories relate to hackers acquiring information that ultimately was made public and became a part of our recent presidential election. But there are a variety of other reasons that someone may attempt to gain illegal access to a computer system, which includes looking for personal data for purposes of ID theft or simply to cause damage and create havoc.
But if you should attempt to breach the cyber defenses of someone else's network, be aware that you could be subject to very serious penalties. Moreover, the federal government is capable of dishing out punishment in a very arbitrary, and some would say unfair, manner.
You see, hackers can be prosecuted under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The CFAA was actually created in the 80's, well before the Internet was in the form that we know it today. According to the Act, accessing a "protected computer" is a federal crime. And if the "value of such use" or an amount of damage caused exceeds $5,000, then the hack is considered a felony.
But it can be very difficult to place an accurate dollar amount on damages done to a system. As such, a value greater than $5,000 could be assigned to a hack simply to raise the crime to the felony level, even if the damage may have actually been negligible. In other words, if you hack into a site just to poke around and do no harm, but you are caught, you could face very steep penalties, including time in prison.
If you are ever charged with violating the CFAA or any other federal Internet law, it can be very beneficial to have an attorney who understands the federal court system and the guidelines to which it must adhere. An attorney can work to help limit the severity of your potential punishment or perhaps have the charges dismissed.