Internet and Cybercrimes: Frequently Asked Questions

Increasingly, we live our lives online. We socialize, shop, game, and watch movies all online. While the internet gives us a great deal of flexibility and opportunity, with that comes crime. Internet and cybercrimes are some of the fastest-growing crimes in the United States. Internet security giant McAfee estimates that cybercrimes' monetary impact exceeds $400 billion globally each year.

Because internet and cybercrimes easily cross state and even national lines, law enforcement can prosecute these crimes through state and federal law. Moreover, many people aren't well versed in cyber law and may violate federal or state laws without even realizing it. Unfortunately, ignorance of the law is no excuse, and you could end up facing an internet crime charge. If that happens, you need an attorney well versed in cybercrimes and the rapidly evolving criminal internet law.

Internet and Cybercrimes: Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What are internet crimes and cybercrimes?
  2. What are the major classifications of cybercrimes?
  3. What are the most common cybercrimes?
  4. What are Pennsylvania's cybercrime laws?
  5. What are the penalties for Pennsylvania cybercrimes?
  6. What are the federal cybercrimes laws?
  7. What are the penalties under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act?
  8. What exactly is phishing, and why is it illegal?
  9. What is a DDoS attack?
  10. What is social engineering?
  11. What is cyberstalking?
  12. What are P.U.P.s?
  13. Is spamming illegal?
  14. Is it illegal to access someone else's email?
  15. What is a sniffer, and how is it related to cybercrime?
  16. What is the F.B.I. Carnivore Program?
  17. Are there any defenses to cybercrimes?
  18. Is it child pornography if my 16-year-old girlfriend sent me a nude photo?
  19. Do I need a lawyer if I'm accused of a cybercrime?

 

 

What are internet crimes and cybercrimes?

Cybercrimes refer to the use of a computer or the internet to commit crimes. Internet and cybercrimes are typically considered white-collar crimes. White-collar crimes don't involve the threat of violence or physical force, but rather the violation of trust, using deceit, or concealment. The motivation behind these crimes is usually financial, but not always.

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What are the major classifications of cybercrimes?

Cybercrimes typically fall under two broad mechanisms: crimes targeting networks or devices and crimes using devices to participate in criminal activities. Within these general mechanisms, cybercrimes generally fall into one of three categories: property, individual, and the government.

  1. Property:

Online property crime is similar to a real-life crime where an individual has a stolen credit card or bank card. Online, a hacker will steal your bank details or password and use that to make purchases or remove money. In other cases, they may use a phishing scheme to get people to give them their information. These crimes may violate both state and federal law.

Phishing involves an email or text that looks like it comes from a company or person that you trust. They may even look like an email from your bank. That email or message will try to trick you into clicking the links in the email and logging on to a fake website using your real login information to steal it. The email might say your bank has noticed suspicious activity on your account or needs to confirm some personal information. The phishing email's goal is to get you to click and then input your information.

  1. Individuals:

This category of cybercrimes typically involves one individual who will distribute malicious or illegal information online. These crimes may include cyberstalking, harassment, child pornography, and trafficking and involve both federal and state crimes.

  1. Government:

Crimes against the government are also known as cyberterrorism. While these are probably the rarest of cybercrimes, they also have the most serious penalties. Government cybercrime can include distributing propaganda, hacking a government website, or hacking military websites. These crimes are violations of federal law.

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What are the most common cybercrimes?

Some of the most common cybercrimes include:

  • Identity theft or impersonating someone else online: As more businesses and individuals are targeted online for identity theft, federal and state law enforcement have begun more aggressively prosecuting this crime. The crime occurs when someone gains access to another's personal information from phishing emails, social media, or social engineering. The perpetrator of identity theft may steal money, access confidential information, or engage in tax or health insurance fraud. They may also open online accounts in someone else's name and claim government benefits in someone else's name. Pennsylvania classifies identity theft as a first-degree misdemeanor if the victim loses $2,000 or less. If the losses are over $2,000, it's a felony.
  • Bank fraud and forgery: As more people begin banking online, more criminals are stealing and forging credentials to steal money online. Federal law enforcement can also prosecute bank fraud as a federal crime.
  • Harassment: Harassment has now moved online. This crime occurs when someone engages in conduct intended to harass or annoy someone by communicating through electronic mail or the internet.
  • Cyber-stalking: Cyberstalking happens when someone targets a user with many messages to intimidate them and make them afraid. Cyberstalkers often know their victim and can use personal details about their lives to harass and terrorize. They may use websites, email, social media, texts, and even manipulate search engines to harass and intimidate their victims.
  • Computer theft or trespass: This crime happens when someone unlawfully accesses or exceeds their permitted access to data from a computer, computer system, or computer network. It can also involve making copies of data on any computer system with the intent to take the data from the owner.
  • Credit card theft: Stealing credit card information is the “old guard” version of cybercrime. This theft can happen through phishing emails, hacking business or bank account information, hacking personal computers or business networks, or even through social engineering.
  • Child solicitation: This crime involves soliciting explicit or nude photos or videos from minors online.
  • Online child pornography: This crime occurs when someone intentionally views or knowingly possesses a computer depiction of a child under 18 engaged in a sexual act.
  • Fraudulent sale of items on the internet: This crime occurs when you order a good or service online. Then the business or individual simply fails to provide it after accepting payment.
  • Phishing: Phishing is an illegal attempt to get sensitive financial or information by posing as a legitimate business institution. The message will attempt to trick someone into giving out passwords or account information with fake websites.

These crimes can also include acts such as:

  • Improperly accessing a computer, system, or network;
  • Introducing a virus into a computer or network;
  • Using encryption in aid of a crime;
  • Modifying, damaging, or taking software, programs, or data;
  • Using a computer to defraud;
  • Interfering with someone else's computer use or access

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What are Pennsylvania's cybercrime laws?

Pennsylvania's cybercrimes laws cover online harassment, cyberstalking, online child pornography, unlawful use of computers and email, computer theft, and computer trespass.

Online Harassment:

Online harassment occurs when someone engages in conduct intended to harass or annoy someone by communicating through electronic mail or the internet. The statute states:

“A person commits the crime of harassment when, with intent to harass, annoy or alarm another, the person:

(1) strikes, shoves, kicks or otherwise subjects the other person to physical contact, or attempts or threatens to do the same;

(2) follows the other person in or about a public place or places;

(3) engages in a course of conduct or repeatedly commits acts which serve no legitimate purpose;

(4) communicates to or about such other person any lewd, lascivious, threatening or obscene words, language, drawings or caricatures;

(5) communicates repeatedly in an anonymous manner;

(6) communicates repeatedly at extremely inconvenient hours; or

(7) communicates repeatedly in a manner other than specified in paragraphs (4), (5) and (6).”

This includes communication onlineSee 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 2709 (2009). Online harassment is a third-degree misdemeanor in Pennsylvania.

Cyber Harassment of a Child:

Cyber harassment of a child occurs when someone engages in conduct intended to harass or annoy a child by communicating through electronic mail or the internet. The statute states:

“(1) A person commits the crime of cyber harassment of a child if, with intent to harass, annoy or alarm, the person engages in a continuing course of conduct of making any of the following by electronic means directly to a child or by publication through an electronic social media service:

(i) seriously disparaging statement or opinion about the child's physical characteristics, sexuality, sexual activity or mental or physical health or condition; or

(ii) threat to inflict harm.

(2) (i) If a juvenile is charged with a violation of paragraph (1), the judicial authority with jurisdiction over the violation shall give first consideration to referring the juvenile charged with the violation to a diversionary program under Pa.R.J.C.P. No. 312 (relating to Informal Adjustment) or No. 370 (relating to Consent Decree). As part of the diversionary program, the judicial authority may order the juvenile to participate in an educational program which includes the legal and nonlegal consequences of cyber harassment.

(ii) If the person successfully completes the diversionary program, the juvenile's records of the charge of violating paragraph (1) shall be expunged as provided for under section 9123 (relating to juvenile records).”

See 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. §2709(a.1) (2009). The statute also provides for a diversionary program if another juvenile is the offender. Online harassment of a child is a third degree misdemeanor for a first offense and a second degree misdemeanor for a second or subsequent offense.

Online Stalking:

Online stalking occurs when someone repeatedly communicates with another person through email or the internet to cause reasonable fear of bodily injury or emotional distress. The statute states:

“A person commits the crime of stalking when the person either:

(1) engages in a course of conduct or repeatedly commits acts toward another person, including following the person without proper authority, under circumstances which demonstrate either an intent to place such other person in reasonable fear of bodily injury or to cause substantial emotional distress to such other person; or

(2) engages in a course of conduct or repeatedly communicates to another person under circumstances which demonstrate or communicate either an intent to place such other person in reasonable fear of bodily injury or to cause substantial emotional distress to such other person.”

This statute includes online conduct. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 2709.1 (2020). Online stalking is a first-degree misdemeanor for a first offense or a third-degree felony for a second or subsequent offense or if the perpetrator has previously engaged in a crime of violence with the same victim or family or household member.

Online Child Pornography

Someone is guilty of this offense if they intentionally view or knowingly possess a computer depiction of a child under 18 engaged in a sexual act. The statute also encompasses photographing, videotaping, depicting on a computer, and distributing online child pornography. The statute states:

“(b) Photographing, videotaping, depicting on computer or filming sexual acts.--

(1) Any person who causes or knowingly permits a child under the age of 18 years to engage in a prohibited sexual act or in the simulation of such act commits an offense if such person knows, has reason to know or intends that such act may be photographed, videotaped, depicted on computer or filmed.

(2) Any person who knowingly photographs, videotapes, depicts on computer or films a child under the age of 18 years engaging in a prohibited sexual act or in the simulation of such an act commits an offense.

(c) Dissemination of photographs, videotapes, computer depictions and films.--Any person who knowingly sells, distributes, delivers, disseminates, transfers, displays or exhibits to others, or who possesses for the purpose of sale, distribution, delivery, dissemination, transfer, display or exhibition to others, any book, magazine, pamphlet, slide, photograph, film, videotape, computer depiction or other material depicting a child under the age of 18 years engaging in a prohibited sexual act or in the simulation of such act commits an offense.

(d) Child pornography.--Any person who intentionally views or knowingly possesses or controls any book, magazine, pamphlet, slide, photograph, film, videotape, computer depiction or other material depicting a child under the age of 18 years engaging in a prohibited sexual act or in the simulation of such act commits an offense.”

18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 6312. A first offense is a third degree felony.

Unlawful Use of Computers and Email:

Unlawful use of computers and email encompasses most computer-related offenses, including hacking. This offense occurs when someone accesses exceeds allowed use of a computer, computer network, computer system, software, program, database, website, or telecommunications device like a smartphone intending to disrupt normal function or defraud someone. This offense includes intentionally destroying something on a computer without permission or publishing confidential information about devices associated with a computer.

The statute states:

“A person commits the offense of unlawful use of a computer if he:

(1) accesses or exceeds authorization to access, alters, damages or destroys any computer, computer system, computer network, computer software, computer program, computer database, World Wide Web site or telecommunication device or any part thereof with the intent to interrupt the normal functioning of a person or to devise or execute any scheme or artifice to defraud or deceive or control property or services by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations or promises;

(2) intentionally and without authorization accesses or exceeds authorization to access, alters, interferes with the operation of, damages or destroys any computer, computer system, computer network, computer software, computer program, computer database, World Wide Web site or telecommunication device or any part thereof; or

(3) intentionally or knowingly and without authorization gives or publishes a password, identifying code, personal identification number or other confidential information about a computer, computer system, computer network, computer database, World Wide Web site or telecommunication device.”

18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 7611 (2009). Unlawful use of computers and email is a third degree felony.

Computer Theft:

This offense can occur if a person unlawfully accesses or exceeds permissible access to data from a computer, computer system, or computer network, or makes copies of data on any computer system to take the data from the rightful owner. The statute states:

“A person commits an offense if he unlawfully accesses or exceeds his authorization to access any data from a computer, computer system or computer network or takes or copies any supporting documentation whether existing or residing internal or external to a computer, computer system or computer network of another with the intent to deprive him thereof.”

18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 7613 (2009). Computer theft is a third degree felony.

Computer Trespass:

Computer trespass occurs if someone knowingly and without permission uses a computer or computer network to remove data, cause a malfunction, change or erase data, alter financial instruments, or electronically transfer funds, or physically damage someone else's property. It includes:

  • Removing data or software from a computer;
  • Causing a computer to fail or malfunction, even temporarily;
  • Changing data or deleting data, programs, or software;
  • Damaging the personal property of someone else; and
  • Creating or changing a financial instrument or a transfer of funds.

The statute states:

“A person commits the offense of computer trespass if he knowingly and without authority or in excess of given authority uses a computer or computer network with the intent to:

(1) temporarily or permanently remove computer data, computer programs or computer software from a computer or computer network;

(2) cause a computer to malfunction, regardless of the amount of time the malfunction persists;

(3) alter or erase any computer data, computer programs or computer software;

(4) effect the creation or alteration of a financial instrument or of an electronic transfer of funds; or

(5) cause physical injury to the property of another.”

18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 7615 (2009). Computer trespass is a third degree felony.

Distribution of a Computer Virus

Distribution of a computer virus includes intentionally distributing or giving a program that will impede or destroy the normal operations of a computer, network, program, or website. It can be accomplished through phishing, malware, hacking, or even selling and giving away the virus.

The statute states:

A person commits an offense if the person intentionally or knowingly sells, gives or otherwise distributes or possesses with the intent to sell, give or distribute computer software or a computer program that is designed or has the capability to:

(1) prevent, impede, control, delay or disrupt the normal operation or use of a computer, computer program, computer software, computer system, computer network, computer database, World Wide Web site or telecommunication device; or

(2) degrade, disable, damage or destroy the performance of a computer, computer program, computer software, computer system, computer network, computer database, World Wide Web site or telecommunication device or any combination thereof.

18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 7616 (2009). Distribution of a computer virus is a third-degree felony.

Crime

Degree

Online Harassment

Summary Offense or 3rd Degree Misdemeanor

Enhanced 1 degree (2nd offense or more)

Online Harassment of a Child

3rd Degree Misdemeanor

2nd Degree Misdemeanor (2nd or more offense)

Online Child Pornography

  • Photographing, videotaping, depicting on computer or filming sexual acts

2nd Degree Felony

1st Degree Felony if indecent contact with a child depicted

  • Dissemination of photographs, videotapes, computer depictions and films
  • Child Pornography

3rd Degree Felony (1st offense)

2nd Degree Felony (2nd or more offenses)

Online Stalking

1st Degree Misdemeanor

3rd Degree Felony (2nd offense or if person has engaged in crime of violence with same victim or family or household member)

Unlawful Use of Computers and Email

3rd Degree Felony

Computer Theft

3rd Degree Felony

Computer Trespass

3rd Degree Felony

Distribution of a Computer Virus

3rd Degree Felony

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What are the penalties for Pennsylvania cybercrimes??

Pennsylvania law sets forth penalties for crimes based on their degreeSee 204 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 303.2 (2018). Most cybercrimes carry serious penalties.

Crime

Degree

Penalty

Online Harassment

Summary Offense or 3rd Degree Misdemeanor

Enhanced 1 degree (2nd offense or more)

Prison for up to 1 year

$2,500 fine

Online Harassment of a Child

3rd Degree Misdemeanor

2nd Degree Misdemeanor (2nd or more offense)

Up to 1 year in prison

$2,500 fine (1st offense)

Up to 2 years in prison

$5,000 fine

Online Child Pornography

  • Photographing, videotaping, depicting on computer or filming sexual acts

2nd Degree Felony

1st Degree Felony if indecent contact with a child depicted

5-10 years in prison

$25,000 fine

10-20 years in prison

$25,000 fine

  • Dissemination of photographs, videotapes, computer depictions and films
  • Child Pornography

3rd Degree Felony (1st offense)

2nd Degree Felony (2nd or more offenses)

Up to 7 years in prison

$15,000 fine (1st offense)

5-10 years in prison

$25,000 fine (2nd offense)

Online Stalking

1st Degree Misdemeanor

3rd Degree Felony (2nd offense or if person has engaged in crime of violence with same victim or family or household member)

Up to 5 years in prison

$10,000 fine

Up to 7 years in prison

$15,000 fine

Unlawful Use of Computers and Email

3rd Degree Felony

Up to 7 years in prison

$15,000 fine

Computer Theft

3rd Degree Felony

Up to 7 years in prison

$15,000 fine

Computer Trespass

3rd Degree Felony

Up to 7 years in prison

$15,000 fine

Distribution of a Computer Virus

3rd Degree Felony

Up to 7 years in prison

$15,000 fine

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What are the federal cybercrimes laws?

The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) is a cybersecurity law that outlaws conduct victimizing computer systems. It is the most comprehensive federal statute protecting computers and digital information from unauthorized intrusions.

Congress first passed the CFAA in 1986 in response to early computer hacking and computer fraud affecting the U.S. government. Congress created CFAA to target and prevent the unauthorized use of computers to obtain confidential governmental or national security information. Congress changed the scope of the CFAA over the years, but it currently contains seven provisions designed to tackle computer fraud, hacking, theft, abuse, stalking, and other unauthorized activity. The law outlaws:

  • Computer trespassing or hacking in a government computer. See 18 U.S.C. 1030(a)(3).
  • Computer trespassing that results in exposure of government, credit, financial, or computer-housed equipment. See 18 U.S.C. 1030(a)(2).
  • Damaging a government or bank computer, or a computer used in interstate or foreign commerce. This provision includes computer viruses, trojan horse, time bomb, denial of service attack, worm, other forms of cyberattack, cyber terrorism, or cybercrime. See 18 U.S.C. 1030(a)(5).
  • Fraud, where an integral part involves unauthorized access to a government or bank computer or a computer used in interstate or foreign commerce. See 18 U.S.C. 1030(a)(4).
  • Threatening to damage a government or bank computer, or a computer used in interstate or foreign commerce. See 18 U.S.C. 1030(a)(7).
  • Trafficking in passwords for a government computer or when trafficking affects interstate or foreign commerce. See 18 U.S.C. 1030(a)(6).
  • Accessing a computer to commit espionage. See 18 U.S.C. 1030(a)(1).

The statute also covers a conspiracy to commit and attempts to commit any of these crimes. See 18 U.S.C. § 1030(b) (2018).

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What are the penalties under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act?

The CFAA also sets forth penalties for violating the act. Penalties range from one year for simple cyberspace trespassing to life imprisonment if a death results from the intentional computer damage. See 18 U.S.C. § 1030(c) (2018).

Offense

Section

Sentence

Obtaining National Security Information

18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(1)

10 to 20 years

Accessing a Computer & Obtaining Information

18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(2)

1 or 5 years to 10 years

Trespassing in a Government Computer

18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(3)

1 to 10 years

Accessing a Computer to Defraud & Obtain Value

18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(4)

5 to 10 years

Internationally Damaging by Knowing Transmission

18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(5)(A)

1 or 10 years to 20 years

Recklessly Damaging by Intentional Access

18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(5)(B)

1 or 5 years to 20 years

Negligently Causing Damage & Loss by Intentional Access

18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(5)(C)

1 to 10 years

Trafficking in Passwords

18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(6)

1 to 10 years

Extortion Involving Computers

18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(7)

5 to 10 years

Attempt to Commit Such an Offense

18 U.S.C. § 1030(b)

10 years for attempt

Conspiracy to Commit Such an Offense

18 U.S.C. § 1030(c)

No penalty specified

The CFAA also created a civil cause of action if the plaintiff can demonstrate:

  • Loss during one year aggregating at least $5,000 in value;
  • Modification, impairment, or potential modification or impairment, of the medical exam, diagnosis, treatment, or care of one or more people;
  • Physical injury to any person;
  • A threat to public safety or health;
  • Damages that affects ten or more protected computers during one year; or
  • Damage affecting a computer used by or for the U.S. government to administer justice, national defense, or national security.

See 18 U.S.C. §§ 1030(c)(4)(A), 1030(g).

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What exactly is phishing, and why is it illegal?

Phishing is an illegal attempt to obtain sensitive financial or other information by posing as a legitimate business, individual, or financial institution. The message will attempt to trick readers into giving out their password or account information with fake websites. For example, you might receive an email that looks like it comes from your bank and states that they've noticed suspicious activity on your account and will shut your account down if they don't hear from you immediately. The email offers a link to their fraud reporting department, and when you click on it, the link asks for your bank account, personal information, and pin. If you enter it, the fake site captures your information.

Under Pennsylvania law, phishing may qualify as “unlawful use of computers and email” or “computer theft.”

The unlawful use of computers and email statute states:

“A person commits the offense of unlawful use of a computer if he:

(1) accesses or exceeds authorization to access, alters, damages or destroys any computer, computer system, computer network, computer software, computer program, computer database, World Wide Web site or telecommunication device or any part thereof with the intent to interrupt the normal functioning of a person or to devise or execute any scheme or artifice to defraud or deceive or control property or services by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations or promises;

(2) intentionally and without authorization accesses or exceeds authorization to access, alters, interferes with the operation of, damages or destroys any computer, computer system, computer network, computer software, computer program, computer database, World Wide Web site or telecommunication device or any part thereof; or

(3) intentionally or knowingly and without authorization gives or publishes a password, identifying code, personal identification number or other confidential information about a computer, computer system, computer network, computer database, World Wide Web site or telecommunication device.”

18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 7611 (2009). Unlawful use of computers and email is a third degree felony.

The computer theft statute states:

“A person commits an offense if he unlawfully accesses or exceeds his authorization to access any data from a computer, computer system or computer network or takes or copies any supporting documentation whether existing or residing internal or external to a computer, computer system or computer network of another with the intent to deprive him thereof.”

18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 7613 (2009). Computer theft is a third-degree felony. Phishing is also a federal offense under the CFAA.

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What is a DDoS attack?

A distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack works by making an online service unavailable and taking the network down by overwhelming a site with traffic. The hacker then hacks into the network once the network is down. DDoS attacks may be “unauthorized access of email or computers,” “computer trespass,” and “computer theft” under Pennsylvania law. All of these are third-degree felonies. DDoS attacks are also illegal under federal law.

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What is social engineering?

Social engineering happens when someone makes contact with you directly via email or phone to gain your personal information or your account information. The perpetrators will often work hard to earn your confidence, posing as a customer service agent for a company or bank where you do business. They will ask for password information, where you work, or where you bank. Individuals trying to social engineer your information may friend you on social media or use search engines to find out more about you. They will use this information to gain your trust or gain access to your accounts and then sell it. This may qualify as “computer theft” and “unlawful use of computer or email in Pennsylvania.” Both are third-degree felonies. Stealing information through social engineering may also be illegal under the federal CFAA statute.

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What is cyberstalking?

Cyberstalking involves online harassment. An individual faces a large amount of malicious online messages and emails. Cyberstalkers use social media, search engines, texts, websites, and emails to intimidate them and make them afraid. Cyberstalkers often know their victim and can use personal details about the lives, friends, or family to make them fearful for their physical safety. Under Pennsylvania law, cyberstalking is expressly illegal:

“A person commits the crime of stalking when the person either:

(1) engages in a course of conduct or repeatedly commits acts toward another person, including following the person without proper authority, under circumstances which demonstrate either an intent to place such other person in reasonable fear of bodily injury or to cause substantial emotional distress to such other person; or

(2) engages in a course of conduct or repeatedly communicates to another person under circumstances which demonstrate or communicate either an intent to place such other person in reasonable fear of bodily injury or to cause substantial emotional distress to such other person.”

This statute includes online conduct. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 2709.1 (2020).

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What are P.U.P.s?

Potentially Unwanted Programs or P.U.P.s are not as immediately threatening as other cybercrimes. But they are a type of malware that may automatically download programs or apps from the internet. They may also uninstall necessary software and access confidential information. These programs can include spyware or adware that harm computers and computer networks and steal sensitive information. Under Pennsylvania, law P.U.P.s may be “computer theft,” “unauthorized use of computers or email,” "distribution of a software virus," or "computer trespass." All are third-degree felonies. P.U.P.s may also be a violation of the federal CFAA statute.

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Is spamming illegal?

The CAN-SPAM Act is another federal law dealing with computer hacking offenses. Congress enacted the law to prosecute individuals and companies that distribute large numbers of unsolicited commercial emails, known as "spam." See 18 U.S.C. §1037. Punishments for violating this law typically depend on the amount of spam sent or delivered and how the violators used the emails. But there are a variety of both civil and criminal penalties under this law.

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Is it illegal to access someone else's email?

The Unlawful Access to Stored Communications Act is a federal law that punishes a computer's use to access someone else's "electronic communication service" where they have stored email or voicemail. If the violator accesses the person's email or voicemail for profit or financial gain, it is a felony. See 18 U.S.C. §2701.

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What is a sniffer, and how is it related to cybercrime?

A "sniffer" or "sniffer packet" is a computer program used by I.T. or network professionals to monitor web traffic for servers and businesses. When I.T. applies a sniffer to a company server, it can track websites visited, emails sent to and from the server, and any data transmitted to or from its server.

A sniffer can be used to commit cybercrimes if it's surreptitiously uploaded to a network and used to collect information from connected phones, laptops, and other devices. For example, suppose you are out somewhere and looking for available and free or cheap wifi. In that case, you might sign on to a network, not realizing that doing so gives a sniffer access to the data and information on your laptop. The data might include emails, texts, banking and account information, photos, and more.

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What is the F.B.I. Carnivore Program?

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I.) generally targets two types of cybercrime:

  1. Cybercrimes that use a computer network to transmit, access, or target a protected computer or computer network to steal personal information or other data; or
  2. Crimes that directly target individual computers and destroy or divert information.

If these crimes happen across state lines, and they often do, the F.B.I. has the authority to investigate. To monitor cybercrime, the F.B.I. uses the "Carnivore Program" or DCS1000. Carnivore tracks and monitors internet activity and is often called a "super sniffer." The F.B.I.'s program can potentially capture all internet activity in the country in real-time.

The F.B.I. is a "government actor" and needs a warrant to investigate information captured by Carnivore or the super sniffer. But it's good to know that super sniffers exist, they are monitoring internet traffic, and modify your behavior online accordingly.

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Are there any defenses to cybercrimes?

Yes, there are defenses to cybercrimes. Some of the most common include:

  • Authorization: If you face a cybercrime charge for illegally accessing a computer, system, or network, but you were authorized to access the information, this may be a defense.
  • Lack of Knowledge: Some internet crimes, like internet fraud, require intent. Intent means that you knew what you were doing, and you intended to engage the victim in fraud. It may be a defense if you didn't know what you were doing or someone else deceived you as well.
  • Coercion: If someone forced you to commit a cybercrime or threatened to harm or punish you or a family member, it may be a defense to the crime.
  • Solicitation of a Crime: The government actively looks for people violating child pornography laws. They will also visit chat rooms posing as children and actively interact with adults, in some cases even soliciting sexually explicit conversations and photos. Unfortunately, while there is often a fine line between soliciting a crime and seeking out offenders, the courts almost always side with law enforcement regarding child pornography.

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Is it child pornography if my 16-year-old girlfriend sent me a nude photo?

The sexual abuse of children is a genuine problem in the U.S. But, the transmission of sexually explicit or nude photos and videos between two minors is a grey area. However, if your 16-year-old girlfriend sends you a nude photo, it does violate online child pornography statutes. "I didn't know" isn't a defense.

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Do I need a lawyer if I'm accused of a cybercrime?

Yes, you do need a lawyer. Both federal and state law enforcement will aggressively investigate and prosecute cybercrimes, and the stakes are high. Many cybercrimes can be prosecuted both federally and in Pennsylvania, with penalties ranging from one year to life in prison if death results from a cybercrime. You need an experienced criminal defense attorney right away. Call attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 today, or fill out our online form.

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Contact Us Today!

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Attorney Joseph D. Lento has more than a decade of experience successfully resolving clients' criminal charges in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania counties. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you or a loved one, contact the Lento Law Firm today! Criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento will go above and beyond the needs of any client, and will fight until the final bell rings.

This website was created only for general information purposes. It is not intended to be construed as legal advice for any situation. Only a direct consultation with a licensed Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York attorney can provide you with formal legal counsel based on the unique details surrounding your situation. The pages on this website may contain links and contact information for third party organizations – the Lento Law Firm does not necessarily endorse these organizations nor the materials contained on their website.  In Pennsylvania, Attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout Pennsylvania's 67 counties, including, but not limited to Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Berks, Lancaster, Lehigh, and Northampton County.  In New Jersey, attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout New Jersey's 21 counties: Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Salem, Somerset, Sussex, Union, and Warren County,  In New York, Attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout New York's 62 counties.  Outside of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, unless attorney Joseph D. Lento is admitted pro hac vice if needed, his assistance may not constitute legal advice or the practice of law.  The decision to hire an attorney in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania counties, New Jersey, New York, or nationwide should not be made solely on the strength of an advertisement. We invite you to contact the Lento Law Firm directly to inquire about our specific qualifications and experience. Communicating with the Lento Law Firm by email, phone, or fax does not create an attorney-client relationship.  The Lento Law Firm will serve as your official legal counsel upon a formal agreement from both parties. Any information sent to the Lento Law Firm before an attorney-client relationship is made is done on a non-confidential basis.

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