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The Laws, Fines and Penalties Facing Hackers

Hack a computer, go to jail, at least that's what the Bush administration is hoping for. In November 2003, new federal rules took effect which will take away much of the sentencing discretion judges have had in hacker cases. Instead of the common probation sentence, hackers, virus and worm writers could get 20 years to life in federal prison.

Who Will Get Caught in the Net?

Federal rules now mandate that a person who uses computers to cause death or bodily harm can get the maximum sentence. Said to be aimed primarily at cyber-terrorists, and not at "teen hackers", the harsh sentences are reserved for those who bring down power grids or airport control centers.

However, viruses and worms are not selective, and the systems that they infect do include critical control networks. 2003's major northeast power outage was at least complicated by, if not caused by, a worm which was making its way through power control systems. If caught, the author of this worm could well face life in prison.

Blaster Worm Penalties

18 year old Jeffrey Lee Parsons is accused of unleashing a variation of the Blaster Windows worm, and will face real jail time due to the new guidelines. This blaster worm infected hundreds of thousands of computers in August 2003. It was able to spread world-wide in just six minutes, and cost millions of dollars in damage and lost business. Even Microsoft itself was harmed by the virus. Its revenue dropped $768 million dollars due to its customers concerns over security vulnerabilities.

Sentences Increased For Stolen Identities

Most maximum prison sentences handed down for hacking will range from one to ten years. Under the new guidelines hackers will face a 25 percent increase in their sentences if they steal personal information, and a 50 percent increase if they share the stolen information. If the information is posted on the Internet, their sentences can double.

Those who write and distribute viruses and worms will face a 50 percent increase in their sentence. A double penalty will also apply to those who break into government, military, or computers tied into the power or telecommunications grids.

Breaking into a bank account will provide a penalty based upon the amount of money in the account. If the hacker actually takes the money, the judges can tack on a 50 percent increase.

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