These UK laws were created to combat unauthorised access to computer systems either for malicious purposes or merely for fun, a process known as hacking. Hacking has its cousins, Cracking and Phreaking (access in relation to a telephone network).
Malicious use covers the destruction of data stored on a computer system and the introduction of malicious programs known as Viruses, which infect all the applications run on a system with their own code and do nasty things to the system, such as the random deletion of files.
There are three levels to the Misuse of a computer system:
- The first is not illegal in itself: The unauthorised access of a system. This is not illegal because it is (still!) possible to to do it accidentaly.
- It is illegal to access a system with malicious and/or criminal intent.
- It is even more illegal to cause the destruction of data or equipment used in relation to that system.
An example is that of an office worker who accidentally(!) dials a wrong number and accesses a government-run computer system. Although not illegal in itself, this action becomes illegal if the worker discovers information on that system about an unpaid parking fine and deletes it, saving himself thirty quid or so. (Although any government stupid enough to allow this kind of access deserves to have all the teenagers with phone lines and far too much time on their hands in the world to their best to bring it to its knees...
In order to improve security, many organisations are presently hiring hackers to try every trick in the book to break into their computer systems. This is of course not illegal, since the access is authorised. Unless the hacker concerned is merely an unwitting pawn in a game of set-ups and betrayal played out by the leaders of global megacorporations, that is, in which things tend to get a tad messy.
Back to Computers, the Law and You