The computer misuse hacking offences are broad enough to catch offences that, at fist glance, do not appear to be “hacking” at all.

The relevant piece of legislation is the s.3 of the Computer Misuse Act1990 and provides for an offence when a person does any unauthorised act in relation to a computer, which he knows is unauthorised, and with the intent to enable or carry out the following:

  1. impair the operation of any computer;
  2. prevent or hinder access to any program or data held in any computer;
  3. impair the operation of any such program or the reliability of any such data;

The maximum sentence for such an offence is ten years imprisonment, so it is certainly a serious offence.

The s.3 offence covers the distribution of viruses and trojans as you can imagine.  A number of successful prosecutions have been brought under s3 for various types of conduct.  However, it also includes the manufacturing of cable/satellite television hacked or “chipped” boxes, that allow users to receive channels without payment.  In the2001prosecution of Maxwell-King, the defendant had a fairly unsuccessful chipped box business and his turnover was around £600.  On conviction, the defendant received a harsh four month custodial sentence.  Luckily for him, that was reduced on appeal, but, nevertheless, the Courts do treat such offences as being very serious.  In2010, Virgin Media commenced a real clamp-down on the use of such boxes and in aBirminghamcase, the seller of such boxes received five and a half and a half years imprisonment. 

There is no doubt that any hacking offence is treated more harshly than you might imagine at first glance.  This is generally because a prosecutor will make submissions to the Court about the effect that the hack has had on their business and, whether through reparation or lost sales, that they have suffered a loss in revenue.

It is becoming more and more common for a person to be offered a modified box, in a pub or off a “friend of a friend”.  Computer systems are getting more sophisticated and the chances of you being caught is now much higher than it ever was previously.  Buyer beware.