The Computer Misuse Act 1990
The Computer Misuse Act 1990 (‘CMA’) makes the following actions illegal:
Section 1 of the Computer Misuse Act makes it illegal to gain unauthorised access to computer material. Computer includes any desktops, laptops, servers, tablets and smartphones.
Without them knowing, you watched your friend put their password into their phone. You then used it to gain access to their phone and download their photos.
Section 2 of the Computer Misuse Act makes it illegal to gain unauthorised access to a computer with the intent of committing or facilitating a further offence. Computer includes any desktops, laptops, servers, tablets and smartphones.
Without their permission, you accessed your friend’s smartphone, obtaining their bank login details, so you could transfer money from their account
Section 3 of the Computer Misuse Act makes it illegal to perform an unauthorised act with intent to impair, or with recklessness as to impairing, the operation of a computer.
You learned from a YouTube video how to use a webstresser or booter tool to perform a Denial of Service (DoS) attack against a friend, knocking them off of an online game. You did this simply intending to win a game. You paid with PayPal so you thought this was probably legal.
Section 3A of the Computer Misuse Act makes it illegal to create, supply or obtain any article for use in committing another offence under the Computer Misuse Act. Article includes software.
You downloaded a programme which was able to take remote control of a friend’s computer without their knowledge. You didn’t get a chance to use it before you were caught. This offence covers the possession of ‘malware’ but also legitimate software for which you had the intent of using it to commit an offence.
Section 3ZA of the Computer Misuse Act makes it illegal to perform an unauthorised act causing, or creating the risk of, serious damage of a material kind. If the damage is caused or threatened to human welfare or national security you can go to prison for life, otherwise the maximum sentence is 14 years in prison.
You carried out a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack against a Government department. You did this because you wanted to prove a point. Your attack prevented critical communications with that department and in doing so undermined national security.
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The Police response to cyber crime
UK Law Enforcement will deal with cyber offenders in a robust and dynamic manner. If you are offending expect a visit from our colleagues very early one morning. All computer devices and all digital storage will be seized for interrogation. You are likely to be arrested and kept in a cell, alone, awaiting interview.
If you are assessed as being on the cusp of cyber offending, you may be given a Cease and Desist Notice. This is a warning that your cyber activity is known to Law Enforcement and failure to stop leads to an early morning visit.
A Cease and Desist Notice would also be used in any future prosecution against you as evidence of your unwillingness to respond positively to this warning.
The Consequences of Conviction for Cyber Crime
If you are dealt with for a Computer Misuse Act offence you may get:
- A caution – with or without conditions you must abide by
- A prison sentence – the maximum under the Computer Misuse Act is LIFE IN PRISON
- An unlimited fine
- A Serious Crime Prevention Order or Criminal Behaviour Order – restrictions may include prohibitions on your use of the internet, having Police monitoring software on your devices and cooperating with the Police Cyber Prevent team
Other things to think about…
A conviction for a cyber offence may well impact upon your ability to apply for many employment opportunities. There are a number of companies that will not employ anyone with a criminal conviction, and you have to declare your conviction for a set period of time under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act.
A criminal record may be publically reported – these reports will persist online for a long time. Many employers now use research companies to find out everything they can about you including those public reports.
Being arrested – not even convicted – for an offence will have an impact upon your ability to visit certain foreign countries. For example an arrest will mean that visa free entry into the USA will no longer be available to you. Australia may also refuse a visa.
A conviction is likely to impact upon your ability to obtain credit, including a student loan or a mortgage. Insurance on cars and homes is likely to be more expensive.
A conviction may affect your ability to rent property – if you are in social housing it could jeopardise your tenancy.