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The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) is a United States cyber security bill that was enacted in 1984 as an amendment to existing computer fraud law (18 U.S.C. § 1030), which had been included in the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984. The law prohibits accessing a computer without authorization.

I occasionally go online to visit news websites such as The Washington Post, FoxNews, ABCNews, Yahoo News, etc. Very often after I read a news story, I will read the Comments section of this news story and will post a few comments.

On one particular news website, after I post a few comments, my web browser will freeze up, or it will automatically close, or my whole computer will lock up and I have to shutdown and restart my computer. I often will then go back to this news website and post other comments, and then once again my web browser/computer will crash again. This is very frustrating to me.

If I could prove/gain evidence that it is one of this news website's moderators/administrators who is crashing my web browser/computer, would I have legal grounds to sue this news website based on the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA)?

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Modern websites use large amounts of Javascript scripts. These are small programs that are run on your machine. By accessing the website you implicitly give permission for this to occur.

(Aside: I'm not aware of any case law on exactly what this implicit authorisation covers. CFAA case law on "authorised access" suggests that this is going to be complicated if it ever becomes an issue).

Javascript is supposed to be run within a limited framework which allows the website to control the rendering of the website and track how you use it. So they can track your mouse clicks when the browser window has "focus", but not clicks you make when accessing something else.

Like all software, the Javascript programs and the web browser "interpreter" that runs them can contain bugs. Javascript has to work on lots of browsers, so its not surprising when things don't always work properly.

Coming on to the CFAA, criminal penalties only apply to intentional access.

5 (c) intentionally accesses a protected computer without authorization, and as a result of such conduct, causes damage and loss.

So if a website runs Javascript on your computer with the intention of crashing it, that is a crime. However if the crash is inadvertent due to ordinary programming errors then it isn't. In this case it is almost certainly innocent. To prove otherwise you would need to study the code they are sending in detail to see if it is doing something strange and unreasonable.

  • @ Paul Johnson, I am not a computer programmer and I don't know any programming languages, so I would have to hire a professional programmer and have him/her analyse if there is something strange or unreasonable. – user22280 Mar 9 at 17:13
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    … and it may not even be the JavaScript in the first place. – JdeBP Mar 10 at 9:34
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    @HRIATEXP Realistically, the idea that someone at a major news site is personally hacking your computer to make it crash is nonsense. This is a bug. Try a different browser. – Paul Johnson Mar 10 at 11:12
  • @ Paul Johnson, that sounds like a good idea. I have been using Google Chrome but I will use Internet Explorer for a while and see what happens. – user22280 Mar 10 at 17:55

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