Trying to gain access into a computer that is not yours is likely to land you in federal court. This is because the federal government has criminalized many hacking crimes as federal offenses. The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act is the primary law the government uses to go after hackers.
In the event you become involved in a case where law enforcement charges you with the illegal access of a computer, the CFAA is the law you will likely have to deal with. As explained by FindLaw, here is a rundown of some of the important aspects of this law.
The CFAA protects many electronic devices
At first, the CFAA just extended protection over computers used by financial institutions and the U.S. government. In later years, Congress amended the law to protect just about any computer in the United States. This does not just include personal computers, but desktop computers, smart phones and tablets.
Second convictions can be severe
Some first time offenses under CFAA, such as acquiring national security information, can land you in prison for up to ten years. However, chances are you might serve a sentence of one to five years for most CFAA offenses. But if law enforcement charges you for committing the same offense a second time, you might face a prison sentence of 10 or 20 years at the maximum depending on the charge.
Other laws may apply
The federal government has passed additional laws over the years that address computer crimes. Some of these laws duplicate the offenses listed in the CFAA. For instance, the Stored Communications Act protects data that rests in a computer just as CFAA does. You might have to deal with SCA as well as CFAA in a federal hacking case, which may increase the charges you have to fight as well.
Some hacking is legal
The key factor in whether hacking a computer is illegal comes down to consent. Some businesses hire people to hack into their systems to test the strength of their computer security. In such circumstances, this hacking would not be a crime under CFAA. You would run into trouble if you penetrated a computer or computer system without the authority to do so.