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When Is Computer Hacking a Crime?

July 5, 2017 By Jeff King

There are complex statutes surrounding cyber crimes in the United States, including those that apply to computer hacking. “Hacking” is a very broad term that, in and of itself, does not imply illicit activity. In fact, there are hundreds of computer hackers that work completely within the confines of the law, using their knowledge to enhance Internet security, improve software programs and upgrade user systems.


So when is computer hacking considered a crime? In Texas, as in other states, hackers may be prosecuted if they access a protected computer without proper authorization. Under law, this “unauthorized access” entails approaching, communicating with, storing data within, altering info or software, or otherwise making use of any computer, computer network, computer program, or system without appropriate consent with the aim of committing fraud or causing harm.


In Texas, there are two main statutes used to prosecute civil and criminal computer hacking cases: the Texas Breach of Computer Security Law (BCS) and the government’s Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), passed in 1986 at the dawn of the computer age. Under CFAA provisions, those who are convicting of gaining unauthorized access into a protected network face federal charges and harsh penalties, that many would argue are disproportionate to the offense. The specific punishment will depend on the intent and nature of the crime, whether it is a misdemeanor or felony, but may entail prison time, steep fines, or both.


Types of computer hacking crimes


It’s worth noting that a “protected computer” includes any device (whether owned by a private individual, a corporation or business, a public library, or the government) that is connected to the Internet. This includes laptops, desktop systems, tablets, websites, video gaming systems and cell phones.


In the same vein “unauthorized access” is loosely defined and may include the use of connected devices for improper purposes. An employee who uses their workplace computer for activities that are not within the scope of his or her job duties (such as playing online poker or fantasy football) may get fired for exceeding their authorized access to a company computer, but unless their actions intend to defraud or obtain something of value, they would not be charged with a federal crime.


The majority of computer hacking prosecutions involve malicious crimes in which the perpetrator intentionally breaks in to damage a system, steal passwords and data, introduce malware or attempt identity theft.


Violations of the CFAA include but are not limited to:


  • Any access to a protected computer without consent
  • Access to a computer to obtain national security information
  • Trafficking in passwords
  • Accessing a computer to defraud
  • Intentionally damaging by knowing transmission
  • Damaging a computer or its information
  • Using computers to extort money or other items of value

Cyber Crimes Attorney in Dallas


Internet crimes such as computer hacking are serious offenses that may result in state and federal charges, incarceration, monetary fines and other life-altering ramifications. Jeff King is an experienced cyber crimes defense lawyer in Texas who provides dedicated representation for clients throughout the greater Dallas metropolitan area.


Whether you’re being investigated for online fraud, extortion or identity theft, Jeff King can launch a successful defense. Call our Dallas, TX law offices today to arrange a no-cost consultation.

Additional “Computer Hacking Laws” Resources:


  1. Texas State Statutes, Penal Code Sec. 33.01
  2., Prosecuting Computer Crimes
  3., Guide to Computer Hacking Laws in Texas
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