Is Hacking Illegal? – Hacking Defence Solicitors

Is Hacking Illegal? – Hacking Defence Solicitors
Legally reviewed by: Kevin Waddingham In: Criminal Defence

Hacking or unauthorised access to computer systems and networks is a serious crime that can have severe consequences for both individuals and organisations. This article will investigate the different forms of hacking and the implications of each, answering the question is hacking illegal in all forms. Whether you are a computer professional or simply a concerned citizen, understanding the legal issues surrounding hacking is essential.

It’s vital to talk with our hacking defence solicitors as soon as you discover you may be facing penalties for hacking. We’ll work alongside you to collect evidence of your innocence and help you to argue that you did not intend to commit any offence or that the claims against you are false.

What Is Hacking?

Hacking is the unauthorized access, use, manipulation, and exploitation, of computer systems networks or devices. Hacking can include:

  • Breaking into computer systems
  • Stealing sensitive information
  • Disrupting network operations
  • Spread malicious software

Although the reason a person organisation or even government may decide to hack is personal to each case, common examples are financial gain, political activism, or e even just mischief.

What are the Three Types of Hacking?

Although there are many ways to classify hacking, you can divide most ways down into three main categories.

White Hat Hacking

White hat hacking is also known as ethical hacking. This is used to identify vulnerabilities in a computer system and network to improve its security. White hat hackers are typically hired by organizations to perform penetration testing or vulnerability assessments.

Black Hat Hacking

Black hat hacking is also known as unethical hacking. This is used to gain unauthorized access to computer systems and networks for illegal purposes, using their skills to steal sensitive information, disrupt network operations, or spread malware.

Grey Hat Hacking

Grey hat hacking falls between white and black hat hacking. This is when a hacker may identify vulnerabilities in a system but may not always get permission to do so before exploiting the computer system and network. They may not cause any significant harm and may even report the vulnerability to the system owner or authorities.

Is Hacking Illegal?

In the United Kingdom, hacking is generally considered illegal. The Computer Misuse Act of 1990 makes it an offence to perform unauthorised access or authorised mortifications to computer systems. Alongside the Computer Misuse Act (1990, the Data Protection Act 2018 also covers hacking offences.

Additionally, the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 also criminalises hacking and other activities like unauthorised access to computer systems.

There is no specific exception for “white hat” hacking in the UK, however, if the activities are carried out with the authorisation of the system owner and with the intention of identifying and reporting vulnerabilities, it may not be considered illegal.

What is the Punishment for Hacking?

Most hacking offences can be heard by the Magistrates’ Court or the Crown Court. However, in most hacking cases, it is unlikely that the judge in a Magistrates’ Court would accept responsibility for judging the case. Instead, the hacking case would be sent to the Crown Court. Section 3ZA states that the cyber-attack offence which requires serious material damage to be caused, can be heard only in the Crown Court.

Whether somebody goes to prison and for how long if convicted will depend on several different factors. The court will look to see if there was any motive for the hacking, such as revenge or personal gain. Additionally, the court will look to see if there was any damage caused to the person or organisation whose computer(s) were hacked. Damage might include loss of money, business, market confidence, or the effect of personal or confidential business data being accessed and whether it was used. The Court Appeal has identified planning and targeting as aspects which increase sentences.

What are the Penalties for Hacking?

You may face computer misuse act penalties if you are believed to have committed:

  • Economic cybercrime
  • The sending of malicious or offensive communications
  • Fraud
  • Intellectual property crime or piracy
  • Cyberbullying or cyberstalking
  • Fraudulent online sales
  • Online blackmail
  • Use of illegal malware
  • Illegal spying or espionage
  • Doing an unauthorised act with intent to impair the operation of a computer

Each one of the offences listed above may result in severe penalties should a guilty verdict be brought, so the assistance and advice of expert computer hacking solicitors under these circumstances is invaluable.

UK penalties for computer hacking cover three tiers of offence. Each of these tiers has a different possible maximum sentence:

  • Level 1 is “unauthorised access to computer material”, which is punishable by up to two years in prison.
  • Level 2 is “unauthorised access with intent to commit or facilitate commission of further offences”, which comes with a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
  • Level 3 is “unauthorised acts with intent to impair, or with recklessness as to impairing, operation of a computer, etc”, which may result in a ten-year prison sentence.

Amendments to these offences have been made in the past. One of which, 3ZA (“unauthorised acts causing, or creating a risk of, serious damage”), is punishable by up to life in prison.

What Should I Do if I’ve Been Accused of Hacking?

You can be accused of hacking for something even if you did not directly carry out the hacking. It can be something as simple as looking at restricted information on another person’s phone or computer screen.

However, investigators may believe that you are guilty of hacking for utilising sophisticated malware. This could be in an effort to defraud a major company’s bank account or a leak of confidential data.

In a more serious case, it is likely that you will be investigated by UK law enforcement and possibly by other bodies based in other countries.

If you have been accused of hacking, it is important to seek legal advice as soon as possible. Hacking is a serious crime that can result in severe consequences, including fines and imprisonment. A hacking defence solicitor can help you understand the charges against you, advise you on your rights, and provide representation in court. Additionally, it is important to not discuss the situation with anyone except your attorney and to not delete any relevant files or communications that may be used as evidence.

Our hacking defence solicitors can then assist you in looking through those records to find evidence of your innocence. From there we will assist you in deciding how best to fight your case based on that proof.

Hacking Defence Solicitors

Our hacking defence solicitors will help you to ensure that all your online activities abide by complex international computer and internet usage laws.

Additionally, we will defend you throughout any investigation into the behaviour of your company or any individuals employed therein. Whether you require assistance from computer-hacking solicitors or phone-hacking solicitors, our solicitors can help you. 

We’re a trusted Legal 500 top-tier law firm with specialists who can assist you if you have been accused of cybercrime. For professional support, get in touch with our team today.

Legal Disclaimer.

All advice is correct at time of publication.