By definition, computer hacking involves the illegal access of a computer system’s files. Conspiracy to commit computer hacking is a crime that takes place when someone acts, agrees, or performs with intent to access a computer without prior authorization.
Conspiracy is comparatively easy for prosecutors to prove because the law only requires the testimony of one party and does not need proof of the terms used in an agreement to commit a crime. An overt act must be alleged and proved to have been committed by one of the conspirators.
Computer ‘hacking’ is a term that has been loosely applied to a number of computer crimes investigated and punished at the state level, such as Unauthorized Use of a Computer, Computer Trespass, and Computer Tampering. Penalties for these crimes range from a year in prison for Unauthorized Use of a Computer to 15 years for Computer Tampering in the First Degree, which is a Class C felony. New York state recognizes six degrees of conspiracy charges, whose punishments range in severity from three months in jail for conspiracy in the sixth degree, which is a Class B misdemeanor, to life without parole for conspiracy in the first degree, a Class A-I felony.
The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986 prohibits hacking offenses. Even seeking access to a ‘protected’ (.i.e. bank or government) computer connected to the internet is a misdemeanor under federal law. But if someone conspires to commit the offense for financial gain, to commit a crime, or access information worth over $5,000, the misdemeanor becomes a felony punishable by up to 10 years if the person was previously convicted of a computer crime. If the conspiracy was to obtain information relevant to national security, the punishment can go up to 10 years, or 20 years with a prior conviction.
- Conspiracy to Commit Computer Hacking
- Criminal Possession of Computer-Related Material
- Unlawful Duplication of Computer-Related Material
The consequences of a conviction for conspiracy to commit computer hacking can be intense, especially if the crime was prosecuted at the federal level. Anyone charged with this crime should consult a criminal defense attorney right away, preferably someone with experience in cyber crime defenses.
If the defendant can show that they had reasonable grounds to believe that they were authorized to access the computer in question and alter, copy, or reproduce the data, they have a viable defense. Other defenses include mental illness and proof that others could have committed the crime.
In May 2013 Edwin Vargas, 42, was charged with conspiracy to commit hacking and computer hacking. Vargas, an NYPD detective, was arraigned in Manhattan Federal Court and released on $50,000 bond. According to the criminal complaint filed in Southern District Court, Vargas paid a hacking service $4,000 between March 2011 and October 2012 to obtain the passwords and usernames for email accounts belonging to NYPD officers. No motive was publicly offered for the alleged cyber offenses, but according to Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, Vargas wanted to see who his ex-girlfriend, also a police officer, was chatting with.