Types of cyber crimes and their penalties

Updated February 21, 2017

Computers have become valuable tools in modern life. This is true both for people using them for legal purposes and people using them for illegal purposes. Although there is much debate over whether there is a unique classification of crime called a "cyber crime," this term has come into popular use over the past decades.

Theft of Communication Services & Illegal Communication Intercepts

One of the earliest forms of cyber crime was theft of communication services. This crime involved unauthorised use of networks to make free local and long distance calls. Illegal intercepts of telephone calls came of age under the Presidency of George W. Bush, with massive programs to intercept communication without legal authorisation.

Theft of telecommunications services is generally a misdemeanour and carries a fine with minimal jail time. Illegally intercepting communication is a Class D felony punishable by 1 to 5 years in prison and a fine.

Communications in Furtherance of Criminal Conspiracies

The definition and penalty of this crime will vary depending on the state or jurisdiction. In most cases, the penalty for Communication in Furtherance of Criminal Conspiracies will be the same penalty as for a general Conspiracy crime.

Telecommunications Piracy

Pirating digital or electronic music, movies or signals is another common crime often defined as a cybercrime. Although it is very rare for criminal charges to be filed for this class of crime, civil penalties can be very high, often in the millions of dollars range.

Dissemination of Offensive Materials

The Internet can be used to disseminate materials that could be considered offensive in certain jurisdictions. The fines and penalties for this will depend greatly on the type of material, the location of the person disseminating the material, and the location of the recipient. In some cases, such as child pornography, penalties can be severe.

Fraud, Money Laundering and Tax Evasion

Computers have made fraud, money laundering and tax evasion more efficient. Laws covering those offences define the penalties and there is no separate class of crime for people using computers while perpetrating these crimes.

Electronic Vandalism and Extortion

In general, denial of service attacks, bot-nets, or other malicious network attacks are considered vandalism. If money is demanded to either stop an attack or to refrain from initiating an attack, it is considered extortion. Penalties for computer vandalism vary depending on the level of damage and actual losses. Penalties for extortion are generally covered by felony extortion statutes.

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About the Author

Although he grew up in Latin America, Mr. Ma is a writer based in Denver. He has been writing since 1987 and has written for NPR, AP, Boeing, Ford New Holland, Microsoft, RAHCO International, Umax Data Systems and other manufacturers in Taiwan. He studied creative writing at Mankato State University in Minnesota. He speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese, English and reads Spanish.