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Hacking and its Legal Consequences: How Do Cybercriminals Get Caught?

Hacking is a serious criminal offence that could land you serious jailtime. But what constitutes “hacking”, and what sort of charges might you face. Take a look…

Despite the popular belief that hacking is done by a bunch of nerdy school kids for a bit of fun, the opposite is now true. Since technology has become an increasing part of our lives, so has the billion-dollar business that is hacking.

The question is, what is hacking, what are the legal consequences, and how can a hacker be caught? Of course, the police can ask you to unlock your phone or laptop to check for the possession of unauthorised data. That said, they first need to catch you before they do this.

So how can this be done? In this article, we’ll explore what hacking is, the legal consequences, and how hackers are caught, so read on to find out more…


What is Hacking?


The dictionary definition of hacking is “the gaining of unauthorised access to data in a system or computer”. Hacking seeks to compromise data or information that can be found on laptops, computers, mobile phones, tablets, or other electronic devices, potentially even Kindles!

It can also include an entire network, for example hackers may choose to seek access to a business VPN, which would give them access to the entire system and all the information within it.

Hacking is an unlawful activity that puts peoples’ finances, identities, and livelihoods at risk. Those who do so may do it for financial gain, to gather information on people, or just for the sheer fun and glory of it. After all, the hacking community are reported to be quite the braggers.


How do Hackers Hack?

There are many ways that a hacker may be able to harvest information from a system, device or network. These include:


Hacking Software

According to Malware Bytes, there are a number of ways a hacker might achieve their ends. These ways include:

  • Botnets
  • Browser hijacks
  • Denial of service (DDoS) attacks
  • Ransomware
  • Rootkits
  • Trojans
  • Viruses
  • Worms


Phishing Attacks

You might assume that hacking is all about computers and nifty hacking tools, but that’s not always the case. In fact, one of the most popular forms of hacking is the psychological trick of phishing. This is when an email, text message or phone call is received, prompting the receiver to click on a link or reveal private information.


Social Engineering

Similarly, social engineering is a more personal form of phishing attack that aims to persuade a person to hand over important information through forming a relationship with them. This can be done through a personable email or phone call which gets to know the victim. The victim then feels as though they can trust the hacker and divulges sensitive info.


Personal Hacking

Alternatively, a hacker might be able to physically, rather than virtually, hack a system by breaking into the building containing a server, or a device. They might do this through social engineering, i.e. pretending to be someone they’re not to enter said building, or by simply sneaking in.


What Are the Legal Consequences of Hacking?

Although, for some brainy teens, hacking might seem like just a bit of fun, it actually has massive legal consequences. In fact, in the UK, hacking could get you anywhere between a 12-month to a life sentence, as well as a fine.

Hacking is a serious offense, which can cause the victims untold consequences. Not only could the victims suffer financial losses and loss of privacy, they may experience anxiety, depression and PTSD after the fact.

Even something as simple as breaking into an acquaintances’ or stranger’s social media accounts is a crime. The Computer Misuse Act (1990) quotes that any unauthorised access to someone else’s computer or materials is a crime, as well as deleting data.

The penalty may then be even more severe depending on any other crimes the hacker committed throughout. For example, if they stole information and committed fraud, forgery, or a breach of the data protection act, they may be in even more serious trouble.

Some more in-depth prison sentences, as quoted by Barrister Magazine, could include:

  • Unauthorised access to computer material: two years prison sentence.
  • Unauthorised acts with intent to impair operation of computer, etc.: up to 10 years prison sentence, a fine, or both.
  • Supplying or obtaining articles for use in computer misuse offences: up to two years prison sentence, a fine, or both.


How Can Hackers Get Caught?

The truth is that, although the sentences for hacking are serious, getting caught is pretty tricky. This means that the business of hacking has become a proper money-maker, as it’s relatively low-risk for high reward. But why is this?

Well, by using secure software, like a proxy server, or the dark web to hide their identity, they often can’t be traced. Adding multiple layers to identities, and funnelling communications through different countries means that the crimes can be committed undetected, and in countries where they can’t be prosecuted.

Not only is it difficult to actually source and find hackers, it doesn’t help that most cases of fraud aren’t even reported to the police. This means that only around five percent of hackers are actually caught for their crimes.

Ultimately tracking hackers takes a lot of time and manpower, requiring cybercrime police units, making it a pretty futile quest. That being said, it’s not impossible, and hackers can be caught through:

  • Careless errors made by the criminals, i.e. spelling errors in correspondence.
  • Similar or the same codes used on multiple hacks.
  • Criminals bragging about their exploits on online forums.
  • Decoy computer systems set up to mimic likely targets, which hackers fall trap to.
  • Committing acts from the same IP address, that can then be tracked, and failing to hide this IP.
  • A mobile phone being taken for evidence, and the police finding something on this phone.

Hacking is Nothing to be Proud Of

In this article, we’ve discussed what hacking is, how it is done, what the legal consequences are, and how hackers get caught be the police. We’ve also taken a brief look at some of the reasons why many hackers never get caught.

As we’ve seen, hacking is nothing to be proud of as, not only is it a criminal offence, it can cause untold damage to the victim’s lives. Choosing an honest career path to make your millions is a much more admirable, and far less risky, way to succeed in life.


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