The term “hacker” has become ubiquitous in the modern computer age. But not all hackers are created alike. Many people classified as hackers are actually hired by major companies for their computer knowledge and tasked with discovering weaknesses in information technology networks. The other type of hacker—the one most of us associate with the term—are what are dubbed “black hats” by many experts. These hackers are people who exploit computer vulnerabilities for malicious reasons or personal gain. This type of hacking is not merely a problem for computer owners; it is a serious criminal offense.
Breach of Computer Security
Texas treats “black hat” hacking as a form of “computer crimes.” Under Texas law, it is illegal for anyone to “knowingly access a computer, computer network, or computer system without the effective consent of the owner.” Effective consent means the hacker must have permission from someone authorized to act on behalf of the computer’s owner, and that permission was not obtained through deception or coercion.
A first offense for a breach of computer security, as described above, is considered a Class B misdemeanor in Texas, which carries a maximum penalty of $2,000 and up to 180 days in jail. If a person has at least two prior convictions for illegal hacking, a subsequent conviction is classified as a state jail felony, which carries a harsher sentence of up to $10,000 and up to two years in prison. It is also considered a state jail felony if a hacker, regardless of the number of prior convictions, illegally accesses a computer owned by the government or a “critical infrastructure facility,” such as a power plant or a trucking terminal.
Damages Caused by Hacking
Beyond merely accessing someone else’s computer without permission, Texas law imposes additional penalties when a hacker tries to use any data obtained from the victim’s system for personal gain. Anyone who illegally accesses a government or business computer “with the intent to obtain or use a file, data, or proprietary information stored” on said machine in order to “alter, damage, or delete property” is liable depending on the total monetary damage done. For example, if a hacker introduces a computer virus (or “malware”) that destroys the files on a victim’s machine, it may be treated as a felony in Collin County and all other Texas jurisdictions.
Specifically, it is a third-degree felony if a hacker causes between $30,000 and $150,000 in damages. This is elevated to a second-degree felony if the damages exceed $150,000, and a first-degree felony if it they are more than $300,000. But even hacking-related damages of as little as $100 may result in a misdemeanor conviction.
Have You Been Wrongfully Accused of a Computer Crime?
Texas law does make an exception for “white hat” hackers, i.e., people who break into computer systems with the owner’s consent to test security. There may be other cases where a misunderstanding leads to unwarranted criminal computer crimes charges. That is why if you have been charged it is important to seek advice from an experienced McKinney computer crimes attorney. Contact the offices of Rosenthal & Wadas, PLLC, if you need to speak with a Collin County computer crimes lawyer today.