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What is ‘computer hacking’?

Under the Computer Misuse Act 1990 (referred to as CMA), the following are criminal offences:

  • Unauthorised access to computer material (Section 1,CMA)
  • Unauthorised access with intent to commit or facilitate commission of further offences (Section 2, CMA)
  • Unauthorised acts with intent to impair, or with recklessness as to impairing the operation of a computer (Section 3, CMA)
  • Unauthorised acts causing, or creating risk of, serious damage (Section 3ZA, CMA)
  • Making, supplying or obtaining articles for use in offence under Section 1, 3 or 3ZA (Section 3A, CMA)

In terms of computer hacking and related offences, Section 1 is widely regarded as the initial offence following which other, more serious, offences are committed.

The offence of unauthorised access to computer material is established once a person directs a computer to gain access to data or a program which they are not authorised to access and they know they are not authorised to access.

Section 2 of the Act follows on from this and legislates for those who not only access forbidden data, but do so with the intention of committing an offence, or allowing another person to commit an offence.

Section 3 is self-explanatory and is in place to punish those who have the intention of adversely affecting the operation of a computer by their actions.

Section 3ZA is different in that this legislation has been introduced in response to those people who seek to attack the critical national infrastructure (Depending on the motives of the perpetrator, terrorist legislation may be appropriate.)


How do the courts sentence computer hackers?

Sentences meted out to those found guilty of computer hacking would depend on the sentencing guidelines for relevant Sections of the Act, the circumstances of the offence and individual mitigation. The following is, however, a starting point:

Section 1:

  • Summary: Maximum six months imprisonment and/ or a fine not exceeding level five on the standard scale.
  • Section 1 and 2 of the CMA must be read in conjunction with the interpretation section at section 17.

Section 2:

  • Summary: Six months imprisonment and/ or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum indictment: Imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years and / or a fine.
  • A person can be found guilty of a section 2 offence even if the commission of the further offence is impossible (section 2(4) CMA). A person found not guilty of a section 2 or 3 CMA offence by a jury, can be convicted of a section 1 CMA offence.

Section 3:

  • Summary: 12 months imprisonment and/ or a fine.
  • Indictment: 10 years imprisonment and / or a fine.

Section 3ZA:

  • Indictment only: 14 years and/ or a fine unless the offence caused or created a significant risk of serious damage to human welfare or national security, as defined in section 3 (a) and (b), in which case a person guilty of the offence is liable to imprisonment for life and / or a fine.

Section 3A:

  • Summary: 12 months imprisonment and/ or a fine.
  • Indictment: Two years imprisonment and / or fine.

What should I do if I am charged with an offence under the Computer Misuse Act 1990?

This is a serious criminal offence. You will need expert advice and guidance in order to decide how you should plead. Contact our cyber crime solicitors today for free initial advice on 01623 397200


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