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Understanding Computer Crime

Posted on in Criminal Defense

Wisconsin criminal defense attorney, Wisconsin defense lawyer, identity theftFrom laptops to smartphones, computers have become a ubiquitous part of nearly everyone's lives. People commonly joke that people have more computing power in their pockets today than NASA did when landing someone on the moon. As much as computers are helpful in everyday life, they have also created a new vulnerability, computer crime. Computer thieves,  who are commonly referred to as hackers or crackers, can lift a person's account data out of a computer from across the country. Even massive, well-funded corporations like Sony can be targeted by such attacks. This sort of crime required a new type of law to protect against it. To that end, Congress passed the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act in 1986, and have updated it six times over the years in order to better suit the rapidly changing technological landscape.

What Computer Crime Looks Like

The reason the law has been updated so many times is because there are so many different types of cyberattacks and vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit. Some of them are highly technical, like ARP poisoning. ARP poisoning is a technique by which a hacker can insert their computer in between the target computer and the router. This lets the attacker watch everything happening over the target's internet.

However, not all cyberattacks are so technically sophisticated. Oftentimes, hackers resort to “social engineering,” which is fundamentally about deception. Hackers pose as IT help desk workers and call employees asking for their passwords, or they purchase a courier outfit and walk in the front door, planning on physical placing malicious software on a system.

How Computer Crime Is Prosecuted

With such a broad set of different types of attacks, the law on cybercrime must be equally broad, and many of those accused of it are often startled by the stiff penalties, especially younger offenders acting more out of curiosity than greed. For instance, one portion criminalizes intentionally accessing a computer and obtaining information from it. That can be read broadly enough to encompass using the internet on a family member's computer without asking permission. Similarly, the law also criminalizes accessing a protected computer without authorization and “recklessly caus[ing] damage.” The penalties for these crimes are quite severe. A first offense for the crime of obtaining information can see a person sent to prison for a year, and a repeat offender can end up in prison for five years. If the person recklessly causes damage, then the first offense can send them to prison for five years, with a repeat offense increasing the sentence to a possible 20 years.

Computer crime is a serious offense that can have a lasting impact on a person's future. If you have been charged with such a crime, contact a skilled Milwaukee criminal defense attorney today to learn more about your options for defending yourself.

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