Computer Hacking: Laws & Consequences

Instructor: Lyna Griffin

Lyna has tutored undergraduate Information Management Systems and Database Development. She has a Bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering and a Masters degree in Information Technology.

In this lesson we will examine the activities that constitute computer crimes, the laws that are in place to combat such crimes, and the scope of crimes they cover. We will also look at the consequences or punishments stipulated by the law to bring culprits to justice.

Definition of Computer Hacking

The internet has birthed an exponential increase in communication, transaction processing, service accessibility and, unfortunately, cyber crime. With computer systems and the internet being used by billions worldwide, there is an abundant pool of victims to be exploited. Statistics over the years have shown that the impact of cyber crime has been astounding, with financial losses worldwide recorded at $158 billion in 2016, according to The quantum of loss to data and information can only be imagined.

Computer systems and the internet are characterized by anonymity. This haven of anonymity permits cyber crimes of various types and degrees to transcend all physical borders.

Computer hacking is defined as the deliberate access or infiltration of a computer system or program without authorization. It is also the intentional access to a computer system or program exceeding authorized access.

According to Symantec's Information Security Threat Report, computer hacking affects all arms of information and communication technology. There are web threats, social media scams, communications and email threats, data breaches, cloud and data storage compromises, law enforcement and critical data breaches. Nothing and no one is exempted.

Computer Hacking Laws

The federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) was enacted by the United States government against these criminal acts.

The laws protect computers, computer programs, networks data and data transmissions. It covers any unauthorized access, illicit escalated access and access with ill intent. Intrusions from local or foreign sources, government systems, departments, financial institutions and organizations are included. Every form of data, information and their respective transmission and remission, illicit access or copying or stealing are dealt with.

The laws in summary cover the following crimes:

a) Whoever knowingly accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds the authorized access.

b) Intentionally accesses a computer system without authorization and thereby obtains

1. Information that is deemed protected for reasons of national defense, foreign relations or restricted data which obtained could be used for the injury to an institution, organization, government or foreign nation.

2. Financial information or pertaining records, records of a financial institution or card issuing institution, or consumer agency.

3. Information from any protected computer whether the violation is national or from foreign state.

c) Intentionally without authorization accesses a non-public computer of a department agency or government and exclusively used by the government or agency and such conduct affects the availability and use by the government/agency.

d) Deliberately accesses a computer or exceeds the authorized access with the primary intent to defraud and illicitly obtain valuable data/information

1. Cause program code, command or information to be transmitted, thereby intentionally causing damage.

2. Intentionally accesses a protected computer causing reckless damage.

e) Knowing and with fraudulent intent steals and traffics passwords or similar authorization/authentication data through which a system could be accessed.


To every action identified as a crime come the penalties or consequences stipulated by law. The penalties are stipulated according to the degree of damage deemed resultant from the crime. The hacking is punished under the statutes for computer criminal acts. Penalties range from Class B misdemeanors (in which a minimum prison time of 15 days is levied but not exceeding a period of one year or a $1000 fine) to Class B felonies (in which a minimum prison term of one year is imposed). These penalties may vary across various US jurisdictions. Unauthorized access to computers and networks penalties range from a Class B misdemeanor to a Class D felony (a $5000 fine or prison term of up to 5 years). Notwithstanding, victims are legally entitled to file civil lawsuits against perpetrators.

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