From dropping apparatuses into gas pump card swipers to big bank security breaches, when you hear the word “cybercrime” in this day and age, easily, a number of images probably come to mind.
Cybercrime can have farther-reaching affects than what we may imagine, though. In 2016, for instance, an 18-year-old college student hacked the Tarrant County 911 system and then posted a link on Twitter. When anyone clicked on it, they auto-dialed the emergency network.
The hack reportedly caused a minimum of 850 hang-up calls, severely crippling response times for those involved in actual emergencies. A quick internet search will show a slew of copycat incidents since.
This and every other cyberattack faced on a daily basis (Ft. Worth alone defends approximately 15,000 threats a day) is why Texas legislators are making changes.
Two new acts recently passed are said to deliver the “one-two” punch we need against online crime in this state, and you’re not going to want to be the one standing in the way.
Texas Delivers a One-Two Punch
House Bill 8 (also known as the Texas Cybersecurity Act) and House Bill 9 were introduced consecutively to fight back from both the inside and out. Both Acts took effect last fall.
Texas Cybersecurity Act
The first part of this initiative was developed with the contribution of expert opinion and advice from more than fifty individuals, organizations, and government entities. Funds totaling $30.6 million were earmarked for system upgrades, providing greater protection for sensitive data from cyberattacks.
Texas Cybercrime Act
The second part revises Texas Penal Code, recognizing several new types of cybercrimes and punishment for each. The law is a huge step toward the modernization of our state’s legal system in keeping up with the tech-savvy criminals of today.
Penalties and enhancements range from a Class C Misdemeanor to First-degree Felony charges, and take into consideration factors such as aggregate dollar amount involved and whether any bodily injury or death could be attributed to the offense.
These two acts work in tandem to provide state officials and law enforcement the cybersecurity boost Texans need, and there are three key pieces of this new legislative crackdown you should know.
Electronic Access Interference
For more than a decade now, accessing the internet has become nearly as easy as calling your provider and asking them to “flip the switch.” This modern convenience has no-doubt altered our lives for the better in many ways. However, it also left us an open target to crimes that could never before have been anticipated.
Believe it or not, hackers have the capabilities now to remotely block users from accessing various personal files, data, and accounts via their own computer or network.
The Texas Cybercrime Act (originally introduced as HB9) has addressed this newly-developed fraud by amending Texas Penal Code so that it is a Third-degree Felony offense to intentionally interrupt or suspend access to a computer system or network without consent unless it’s for legitimate business purposes.
Electronic Data Tampering
The new law also adds “electronic data tampering” to the list of illicit online activities in Texas. Electronic data tampering is defined as an act of intentionally altering computer data and the introduction of malicious code. Often when a customer has fallen victim to an electronic access interference crime, it isn’t simply to lock them out of their systems.
Many cyber-criminals also introduce “ransomware” onto their victims’ computers, networks, or systems, which locks out users until they pay a ransom in the form of money, credit, or other identifying information.
Simply tampering with data can result in being charged with a Class C Misdemeanor, but action with a proven intent to defraud or harm another person can elevate the charges – depending on the total sum value of a fraudulent activity, new laws say you could face first-degree felony penalties.
Unlawful use of encryption was first introduced as a federal crime in 1997, but “unlawful decryption” is now a crime too – at least according to the Texas Cybercrime Act. It is described as the decryption (or reversing of the process of encryption) of intentionally encrypted private information, and falls under the umbrella of electronic data tampering crimes.
The trip-up with this crime is, if you are attempting to decrypt data and you are uncertain about the total value held within, you may not be aware of how serious the consequences you may face will be.
Again, when data can be traced or linked to accounts of higher value, you’re now going to be charged with a felony.
In short, cyber-pranks are no longer a thing — cybercrime is what you are committing when you wind up participating in any of these prohibited activities. Texas is no longer taking the cybersecurity of its citizens lightly.
If you have been accused of a Texas computer crime, a Ft. Worth cybercrime defense attorney is who you need to review your case in light of these recent changes to ensure you understand your charges and secure the best possible outcome.
About the Author:
After getting his Juris Doctor from the University of Houston Law Center, Jeff Hampton began practicing criminal law in Texas in 2005. Before becoming a defense attorney, he worked as a prosecutor for the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office – experience he uses to anticipate and cast doubt on the arguments that will be used against his clients. Over the course of his career, he has helped countless Texans protect their rights and get the best possible outcome in their criminal cases. His skill has earned him recognition from the National Trial Lawyers (Top 100 Trial Lawyers) and Avvo (Top Attorney in Criminal Defense, Top Attorney in DUI & DWI, 10/10 Superb Rating), and he is Lead Counsel rated.