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What is Computer Misuse?

The Computer Misuse Act is designed to protect computer users against wilful attacks and theft of information.

Offences under the act include hacking, unauthorised access to computer systems and purposefully spreading malicious and damaging software (malware), such as viruses.

Unauthorised access to modify computers include altering software and data, changing passwords and settings to prevent others accessing the system, interfering with the normal operation of the system to its detriment.

The act makes it an offence to access or even attempt to access a computer system without the appropriate authorisation. Therefore, even if a hacker tries to get into a system but is unsuccessful they can be prosecuted using this law. The act also outlaws "hacking" software, such as packet sniffers, that can be used to break into or discover ways to get into systems.

Although intention to do wilful damage can not be easily proved, the act makes it an offence for a hacker to access and use a system using another person's user name, including e-mail, chat and other services.

The act also covers unauthorised access to different parts of a computer system, therefore, a person may be allowed to access one part of a system but not others, and the accessing of the other parts will be an offence.

Note: the downloading or exchange of pirate software is not covered by this act but by other legislation.

The penalties of breaking the CMA range from fines to imprisonment.

Next: Origins of the Computer Misuse Act