When I started out in cyber security, I was intrigued about hacking a computer or a computer network, as this is a concept that’s quite popular. There are many television shows that have storylines on hacking. Sometimes, the good guy will hack a computer or computer network, and other times a villain will do it; therefore, as I wasn’t familiar with cybersecurity laws at the time, I wondered whether hacking is legal or not.
So, is hacking illegal? Hacking is illegal if you are doing it without permission from the owner of the computer or computer network. Hacking without permission can attract criminal charges and a jail term if found guilty. Hacker’s trespass into a computer or computer network for a number of reasons, such as theft of data, espionage, piracy, and extortion.
I found out that in the United States, if you participate in illegal hacking, you can be prosecuted either in a state or federal court. Illegal hacking attracts a jail term between five to ten years or a fine.
Illegal hacking has become a menace to many people since hackers are banding into groups and turning hacking into an organized crime syndicate. Many companies are spending millions of dollars strengthening their cybersecurity systems against hackers.
Whilst noting illegal hacking was certainly not something I would want to do, due to the legal repercussions, I decided to look at the legalities of certain types of hacking. My first point of call was to look at hackers and see if there were any differences in the types of hackers out there as this might make it easier to understand the activities, they were involved in.
Hackers are classified into various groups depending on their actions. They include white hat hackers, black hat hackers, grey hackers, script kiddies hackers, and hacktivists.
A white hat hacker is a professional with skills and expertise in cybersecurity. Organizations and government agencies hire white hat hackers to hack into their systems and identify weaknesses so that they can fix them.
A black hat hacker is the direct opposite of a white hat hacker. A black hat hacker has knowledge and skills in cybersecurity, but they use it for the wrong intentions. Black hat hackers will hack into an organization’s computer network and steal data, funds, and sensitive information.
On the other hand, a grey hat hacker will break into a computer or computer network without permission from the owner with the intention to reveal weakness. The hacker will ask for financial compensation for revealing the weakness in the website security system.
Script kiddies are hackers who do not know cybersecurity and will use tools to gain unauthorized access into a computer or computer network. The individual will use scripts from other hackers to hack into a computer. Script kiddies utilize DDoS-for-hire services to gain notoriety or punish a specific individual or organization. Script kiddies are very common in the online gaming community.
Finally, a hacktivist is a hacker who uses their skills to send political, religious, or social messages to a particular group. Most hacktivists will hijack a particular website and send specific messages to a specific audience. In 2014, Sony Pictures Entertainment was hacked by a hacktivist group known as Guardians of Peace. They obtained over one hundred terabytes of data which contained unreleased movies, employee information, passwords, and proceeded to post threatening messages on the accounts.
Some people believe the hacking of Sony was politically motivated because of the release of a movie known as “The Interview.” North Korea was not thrilled by the depiction of their leader Kim Jong-un in the movie, and many people suspect that North Korea was behind the cyber-attack on Sony.
Is Being a Hacker Illegal?
Most people believe that a hacker is a person in a dark room typing codes into their computer to gain access to a computer or computer networks. The activity may seem fun and interesting, but you need to know if becoming a hacker will land you in trouble with authorities.
Being a hacker is not illegal; however, hacking into a computer or computer network without permission from its owners is illegal. Several hacking activities are considered illegal, such as hacking as part of organized crime, hacking a computer or network to gain publicity or notoriety, extorting victims of hacking, and spying on individuals or organizations.
Some individuals use hacking as a form of political activism, which is still illegal. Even hacking for fun is considered a crime in most countries. As you have noted, there are different types of hackers but what they do is what will determine if they are legal.
Several organized crime groups carry out illegal hacking on computer networks belonging to top organizations in the world. One famous hacking group globally is known as Anonymous, whose members are known as “Anons”. Organizations which have been targeted by Anons include Sony, Koch Industries, several websites belonging to the Chinese government, and PayPal, among others.
However, several Anons have been arrested and charged for numerous cyberattacks in many countries. Anonymous relies on anonymity, which makes it very difficult for authorities to arrest their members.
Sometimes, individuals hack into computers or computer networks to gain notoriety in the hacking community, which is still illegal. Since most organizations have strong security systems for their websites and databases, it takes someone with great skills to hack into them.
Some individuals, especially young or rookie hackers, try to prove their hacking knowledge and capabilities to certain hacking groups. Most of their hacking involves website defacements where they change certain information on a website.
Cyber espionage is another form of illegal hacking. In cyber espionage, a hacker is employed to gain illegal access into a computer network of a foreign government or a competing company. The hacker will then steal sensitive information or alter data or carry out any activity as instructed by their employer.
A hacking group known as Mustang panda has a prominent history of performing cyber espionage campaigns targeting organizations worldwide. The group is accused of targeting telecommunication companies in a bid to steal 5G secrets.
Political activism has changed, and some people are using hacking to send a message to the government or a particular organization. When a hacker or a group of hackers do not agree with a certain political party or politician, they will target them by hacking their website, computer networks, or personal social media accounts.
A distributed Denial-of-Service attack (DDoS) is one of the methods used more often by activists. A hacker will launch a DDoS attack on a political website, denying people access and influencing the outcome of an election.
However, some hackers do not have any strong reason, but they only engage in illegal hacking because it is fun. Most hackers do it as a hobby and will target certain individuals or organizations. Most roads in the United States have traffic signs that authorities use to warn road users of certain events such as accidents.
In 2014, hackers gained access to the San Francisco traffic control and displayed the sign “Godzilla Attack! Turn Back!” The hackers did have fun because many drivers found the message funny.
What Type of Hacking Is Legal?
Not every hacking is a crime because some people with cybersecurity skills make a living as ethical hackers. Many organizations want to improve their security systems, and they have to use the skills and knowledge of ethical workers to achieve their goals. Some companies offer legal hacking services through penetration testing services.
A hacker can also participate in legal hacking if it is done as part of the research. In addition to legal hacking, there are other ways an individual or organization can prevent hacking, including ethical hacking. Ethical hacking involves hackers gaining access to a system or network to identify weaknesses and develop countermeasures to protect the system or network from future attacks.
There are rules that an ethical hacker has to abide by; they include getting permission from the owner of the computer system, protecting the privacy of the organization or individual, reporting all identified weaknesses and informing the appropriate hardware and software vendors of the identified weaknesses. The International Council of E-Commerce Consultants has a certification program to test an individual’s skills. Ethical hackers have to renew their certificates after a few years.
Ethical hacking is also legal because hackers use a passive technique to check the vulnerabilities of a computer or computer network. The hackers do not use techniques that will harm the computer or network. The hackers research using data and viewing website’s encryption details to check for weaknesses. Research hacking also involves using simulations to predict the effect of an attack and how to respond to the attack.
Another type of hacking that is legal is professional penetration testing. Penetration testing is where an organization employs professional hackers to check their system and find all vulnerabilities before malicious hackers can exploit them. There are three types of professional penetration testing that an organization can choose depending on its system. They include web application penetration testing, infrastructure penetration testing, and mobile application penetration testing.
Web application penetration testing is when a company requests hackers to test their website or web applications for vulnerabilities while infrastructure penetration testing is where an organization with several servers, routers, switches, firewalls, and computers invites testers to check for any weakness in their infrastructure.
The testers have to check all the equipment used by the organization in their cyber system. Finally, mobile device and mobile application penetration testing involve checking for weaknesses on mobile devices and applications created for mobile devices.
A bug bounty is another type of legal hacking. An organization will invite several hackers to check their systems for any vulnerabilities, and, if they find one, they report it. The organization will then pay the hacker and fix the vulnerability. Companies such as Twitter and Facebook frequently invite people to find weaknesses in their systems, and it has become a lucrative career for some professional hackers.
Legal hacking is one way to protect your system or network, but there are other ways you can help prevent unauthorized access to your systems or networks. One way to prevent hacking is always to use authorized software from trustworthy manufacturers. Many do not like paying for certain software, and they end up downloading software from sketchy websites. Some of the software may contain viruses or spyware, which may obtain sensitive information from your computers.
Simple Ways of Reducing Your Chances of Being Hacked
Considering hacking is a widespread problem in our current society, you need to protect yourself against it. Here are some simple ways you can reduce your chances of being hacked.
One method a hacker will use to gain access into systems or networks is sending emails with malware. Once the recipient opens the email and downloads an attachment or clicks on the link, the malware infects the system, and the hacker can easily access the network. Therefore, it is important to avoid opening emails from people you do not know. If you accidentally open an email from a sender, you do not know, do not open any attachments or click on the links inside the email.
It is also very important to use hard-to-crack passwords. Hackers are smart individuals, and if you use easy passwords such as your name followed by your year of birth, it will not take long before they have access to your accounts.
Try to use a hard-to-crack password by combining the alphabet, numerals, and special characters. You should also ensure that you have different passwords for different accounts. You should also try and memorize your password, do not store your passwords on your computer.
Use patches and updates to protect your computer or computer network from hackers. Technology keeps moving forward, and hackers are developing new ways of bypassing security systems currently used by various organizations.
Software companies will update or release patches for their products to keep them secure from cyberattacks. If you stay on top of patching or updating your security system, you will be reducing the chances of a hacker gaining access to your network or system.
Having a backup is also important when dealing with hackers. Sometimes, it can be hard to keep hackers away, and once they have access to your computer or computer network, they can do a lot of damage before you take back control. If hackers delete vital data, you may incur an immense loss if you do not have backups.
You should backup all your vital data in a separate system if you lose the original data to a cyberattack. If you use cloud storage, ensure that you encrypt the data if a hacker comes snooping around.
A hacker can be a good profession if the person decides to use their skills to help others. However, some decide to use their skills to cause emotional pain through invasion of privacy or extorting money from victims. In the United States, the U.S Computer Fraud and Abuse Act helps prevent hacking and provides punishment for those found guilty of hacking in federal courts. Each state also has laws regarding hacking and other computer-related illegal activities.
Ethical hacking is about improving the security of computers or computer networks. Ethical hackers are useful in improving system security and providing new ways to protect vital information on the internet.
Many companies offer ethical hacking services, and if you feel your system or network needs a checkup, you can reach out for their services. You can also use some of the suggestions in this article to prevent hackers from accessing your system or network.