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What happens to hackers if they get caught? Fines, penalties and prison sentences

As more financial transactions are made online, hackers can access more personal information. What happens after a hacker is caught? Fines, penalties

As more financial transactions are made online, hackers can access more personal information.
Kacper PempelREUTERS

After several high-profile hacking incidents have rattled casinos in Las Vegas, authorities have not released any details on the possible hackers behind the cyberattacks. Hacking takes many shapes and forms but covers events where access to digital information or a computerized system is obtained through an intentional breach.

There is a key difference between online scams and hacking, although both fall under the broader category of cybercrime. Scammers interact with their victims to gain access to personal information, while hackers bypass direct interactions by exploiting security weaknesses. Phishing, for instance, is not a form of hacking. There is the possibility of crossover. For example, a hacker could gain access to a victim’s e-mail and pose as them to phish personal information from their contacts. Critically, not all hackers are criminals. Hackers are often asked by organizations to attempt a hack to expose weaknesses in digital security systems. Hacking collectives like Anonymous also argue that their members use their skills for good, though some of their actions violate the law in the geographies they have attacked.

What percent of hackers are caught?

Compared to more traditional crimes, authorities often face significant challenges in catching those who commit crimes online. Researchers at the World Economic Forum reported that around 0.5 percent of “organized cybercrime entities” are prosecuted in the US.

Most data breaches, those that are categorized as personal and not, are often the result of hackers or the use of malware, which the FBI describes as “software or code intended to damage, disable, or capable of copying itself onto a computer and/or computer systems to have a detrimental effect or destroy data.” Last year, $742 million was stolen through a breach.

Do all states have laws banning hacking?

All fifty states have laws on the books that outlaw hacking.

California, the country’s most populous state, saw the highest number of cybercrimes perpetrated against its residents in 2022. The FBI reported that in 2022, $2 billion was stolen from just over 80,000 victims in the state.

Under California law, the punishments and penalties depend on the severity of the hack; those prosecuted can be charged with a felony that carries with it a prison sentence of up to three years and a fine worth up to $10,000. The state also allows civil cases by victims of the hacker for damages caused by the attack.

Florida (42,792), Texas (38,661), New York (25,112), and Illinois (14,786) rounded out the top five states with the greatest number of cybercrime victims in 2022. In terms of losses, Georgia replaced Illinois in the number five spot, with around $332 million stolen.

Federal law also prohibits hacking at the national level as well. The US Department of Justice has prosecuted several high-profile hacking cases, including one in 2021, which brought charges against a Ukrainian national who helped the hacking group FIN7 steal over $1 billion. Andrii Kolpakov, 33, was sentenced to seven years in prison and was mandated by the court to pay $2.5 million in restitution.


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