There are two kinds of people that want to know whether or not hacking is illegal. The first type is usually people who feel they’ve been hacked and want to know what recourse they may have. The other type are people who are thinking of doing it.

The answer is the same for both groups: Yes, hacking is illegal.

No matter where you go – with the exception of some developing nations that lack well-established governments (and they have bigger problems to worry about) – hacking is illegal and punishable by the law. That’s pretty uniform the world over. In fact, that’s why a lot of hackers choose to hack other countries instead of operating within their own borders. Well, that and there may be more lucrative targets elsewhere.

When you’re hacking you’re essentially forcing illegal access to something. Or you’re breaking it. That’s the most basic definition of hacking. It’s digital trespassing or digital vandalism. And trespassing is illegal. So is vandalism. Why wouldn’t it also be on the internet?

Hacking Is Illegal, but It Depends

Granted, the penalties range by the jurisdiction. And any mitigating factors. Marcus Hutchins, known online as MalwareTech, was hauled into a US court recently for his part in designing a banking trojan. However, he did that as a kid and had since changed hats from black to white and was recently the one responsible for stopping WannaCry. The judge considered his recent change in behavior and let him off with barely a slap on the wrist. The right call, I might add.

On the other hand, you have someone like Aaron Swartz, who accidentally brought down JSTOR, an academic database, by downloading too many articles. The state of New York arrested him, an overzealous prosecutor tried to put him in jail for 100 years and he ended up hanging himself in his jail cell.

So it really depends on where you get caught.

But, again, anytime you’re making a statement like: it depends on where you get caught – there’s a good chance you’re not making good decisions.

The Consequences of Hacking

Hacking can cost you:

  • Your personal liberty
  • Massive fines
  • Your internet access

That’s right, some jurisdictions will BAR YOU FROM THE INTERNET.

Think about that for a second. Imagine not being allowed to go online for fear of being sent to prison. And chances are you’re not going to do well there.

I’d also wager you couldn’t pay the massive fines that are sometimes handed down, either.

Hacking is illegal. But still, some of you are going to do it anyway.