The Computer Fraud Abuse Act lists the common computer crime charges Unauthorized Access of a Computer, and Exceeding Authorization to a Computer. These allegations basically include: (1) to obtain financial, credit or other sensitive information; (2) with intent to defraud; (3) to obtain something of value; or (4) to intentionally damage a computer.
An Indictment (formal charge) charges someone for exceeding the authority a person has for the computer or computer network. That is, even if a person was authorized to access information, he may be restricted from sensitive information or certain financial data. If a person does not have authorization to access certain information files, he could be prosecuted. This is true even though the person being investigated or prosecuted may have authorization to access the computer/network.
Fraud and Conspiracy
In addition to the offenses of Unauthorized Access to a Computer or Exceeding Access to a Computer, people can be prosecuted for Conspiracy to Commit Fraud. These prosecutions could allege Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud, or Conspiracy to Commit Bank Fraud if payments to or loans from a federally insured bank were involved.
Intrusion and Planting Malware
The federal fraud statute related to computers and “intrusions” is in Title 18 of the U.S. Code Section 1030. It reads that a person is guilty of an intrusion into a computer by planting “malware” or “spyware” in a computer network. An intrusion is an entrance into a computer or computer network without authorization, and the reasons can be several. Often, when people intrude into a computer network, they do so to obtain company or sensitive information from reports or emails. Also, people intrude into company computers or other persons’ computers to purposely damage the system, disable the computer system, or destroy files.
Intruders use malware to destroy information in a computer network, disrupt computer use, and disable a computer network. Intruders also plant spyware to access emails and updated communications.
Practical Aspects of Prosecution
The U.S. Attorney prosecutes people in federal unauthorized access to a computer when they access sensitive information, financial data, or confidential information. Usually, the person intruding into a computer network does so using a “spoofed” email address, so he does not reveal his identity. Spoofing is forging the email so that it appears that it came from someone or somewhere other than the forger. It is relatively easy to use another person’s IP or email address, making it appear that the action is from the legitimate addresses.
Federal agents investigating computer crimes have to approach them from the standpoint that the intruder is using a fake address or someone else’s address.
A similar Texas state charge for unauthorized access to a computer, or exceeding one’s authorized access to a computer, is Breach of Computer Security from the Texas Penal Code.
What to Do If Charged with a Computer Crime
If your computer was seized as part of an investigation, or you are under investigation, contact an experienced federal defense attorney to represent you. If you are investigated or charged with computer access or computer intrusion, former federal prosecutor John Teakell can guide you through any computer crimes charges.