You are here

Computer Crime

19 January, 2016 - 16:39

Computer crime generally falls into four categories: (1) theft of money, financial instruments, or property; (2) misappropriation of computer time; (3) theft of programs; and (4) illegal acquisition of information. The main federal statutory framework for many computer crimes is the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA; see Table 6.1). Congress only prohibited computer fraud and abuse where there was a federal interest, as where computers of the government were involved or where the crime was interstate in nature.

Table 6.1 Summary of Provisions of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act

Obtaining national security information

Sec. (a)(1)

10 years maximum (20 years second offense)

Trespassing in a government computer

Sec. (a)(3)

1 year (5)

Compromising the confidentiality of a computer

Sec. (a)(2)

1 year (10)

Accessing a computer to defraud and obtain value

Sec. (a)4

5 years (10)

Intentional access and reckless damage


5 years (20)

Trafficking in passwords


1 year (10)



Offenses can be against persons, against property, or against public policy (as when you bribe a public official, commit perjury, use public goods such as the mails or the Internet to commit fraud, or commit other white-collar crimes).


  1. Which does more serious harm to society: street crimes or white-collar crimes?
  2. Why are various crimes so difficult to define precisely?
  3. Hungry Harold goes by the home of Juanita Martinez. Juanita has just finished baking a cherry pie and sets it in the open windowsill to cool. Harold smells the pie from the sidewalk. It is twilight; while still light, the sun has officially set. Harold reaches into the window frame and removes the pie. Technically, has Harold committed burglary? What are the issues here based on the definition of burglary?
  4. What is fraud? How is it different from dishonesty? Is being dishonest a criminal offense? If so, have you been a criminal already today?