Broad Range of Cyber Crimes
Through developments current developments such as blockchain and cryptocurrencies, and with the potential for exponentially bigger technologies, like quantum computing, on the horizon, the capability and potential of computers are seemingly endless.
The federal government views these advancements with some trepidation, as the increased capability of computing also opens the door for greater and more sophisticated cyber crimes.
Computer-oriented crimes, another term used for cybercrime, span a very wide variety of actions, intentions, and goals. These are likely cyber crimes investigated by the federal government that involves:
- Phishing scams,
- Email bombing,
- Social media hacks,
- Identity theft, and
- Financial fraud.
Not only are these examples in and of themselves broad categories of cybercrime, but they are also just a few of the vast activity that now falls under federal law.
It is not surprising that each year Americans are investigated for activity and unauthorized actions that they didn’t know were a federal offense or were unaware they were even perpetrating.
Two Categories of Cybercrime
The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) generally targets two types of cybercrime.
(1) Cyber activity that uses computer networks to transmit, target, or access a protected computer or other networks to achieve a separate purpose, such as theft of personal information; or
(2) Crimes that directly target computers, such as destruction or diversion of information.
In both of these instances, the FBI is interested in cybercrimes that cross interstate or international borders, which provides the agency with authority to investigate.
Federal Statutes on Cybercrime
The first federal statute to tackle cybercrime was passed in 1986. The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) was the government’s response to early computer hacking and computer fraud activity that directly threatened or impacted the United States government.
The CFAA was aimed explicitly to prevent the unauthorized use of computers and rudimentary computer networks to obtain confidential government information or information vital to national security.
The scope and applications of the CFAA have changed over the years. Federal agencies and prosecutors have used the broadly worded law to tackle, the ever-increasing, types of cybercrimes.
Offenses under the CFAA
The CFAA includes seven separate provisions that address various types and aspects of computer fraud, hacking, theft, abuse, stalking, and other unauthorized activity. The federal government can use the CFAA to prosecute cyber activity that impacts interstate or foreign commerce and:
(1) Accesses information that is marked confidential or sensitive by the U.S. government for purposes of national security or by executive order;
(2) Accesses information of a financial institution, most often with the intent to commit theft or defraud;
(3) Is intended to disrupt a government agency or department of the federal government;
(4) Commits fraud, of any type and isn’t required to be against the U.S. government;
(5) Intentionally send malware, ransomware, or other malicious programs through cyber communication or networks;
(6) Trafficks passwords or other information that can be used to access a non-public, government computer; or
(7) Transmitted information or communication with the specific intent to commit extortion.
Other Federal Statutes Used Against Cybercrime
The federal government has made other attempts to tackle cyber crime through statutes and laws.
Sometimes older statutes, such as the federal wire fraud law, are used against illegal cyber activity, and newer laws have also been passed.
Yet, many of the other activities that we consider to be cybercrime, such as stalking, harassment, and certain thefts fall under state law.
Your Actions If Accused of a Cybercrime
Investigation of cybercrime requires immediate action. If you learn the FBI or other government agency is reviewing or investigating your online activity and potential cybercrime, now is the time to take steps to protect yourself.
(1) Understand the investigation: Often, individuals are surprised to learn the scope of a federal investigation for cybercrime. It could be a broad investigation that encompasses your day-to-day online activity, but more than likely the government has identified a narrow subset of actions that it believes could amount to criminal activity. Before you disrupt your business or personal activity, it is essential to know what is being investigated.
(2) Hire professions in your defense: You may know computers and the capabilities of a computer system or program, but this doesn’t mean you know the law. At the start of an investigation, it is essential to find and hire individuals that have the appropriate legal experience.
(3) Be cautious with investigators: Your interactions with the FBI or other investigators are crucial to the trajectory and outcome of any investigation. How you frame these interactions and the tone you take should reflect a broader strategy in your defense to allegations of a cybercrime. Uncertain how to proceed when it comes to conversations, interrogation, or searches by an FBI agent, speak with your lawyer.
You can find a top cybercrimes lawyer here.