5

I am an American citizen located in the US. Suppose I wanted to hack Russian military infrastructure and disable it in order to aid Ukraine. Would this be legal?

1
  • I don't think you'll find much criminal or political resistance in the US towards your actions. However, should you step into a Russian-allied state, you may find yourself in a bit of a pickle.
    – AlanSTACK
    Commented Nov 27, 2022 at 20:42

1 Answer 1

5

It's illegal.

18 USC 1030, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, makes it illegal to, for instance, "intentionally access a protected computer without authorization, and as a result of such conduct, cause damage and loss." A "protected computer" is defined to include any computer "which is used in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce or communication". This effectively includes every computer in the world that's connected to the Internet (see US v. Trotter, 478 F.3d 918 (8th Cir. 2007).

To the best of my knowledge, Congress has not added any exceptions for Russia or any other specific country.


It's also likely to be forbidden by the laws of your state. You did not specify a state, but taking Colorado as an example, the following are crimes under C.R.S. 18-5.5-102:

(a) Accesses a computer, computer network, or computer system or any part thereof without authorization; exceeds authorized access to a computer, computer network, or computer system or any part thereof; or uses a computer, computer network, or computer system or any part thereof without authorization or in excess of authorized access; or [...]

(e) Without authorization or in excess of authorized access alters, damages, interrupts, or causes the interruption or impairment of the proper functioning of, or causes any damage to, any computer, computer network, computer system, computer software, program, application, documentation, or data contained in such computer, computer network, or computer system or any part thereof; or

(f) Causes the transmission of a computer program, software, information, code, data, or command by means of a computer, computer network, or computer system or any part thereof with the intent to cause damage to or to cause the interruption or impairment of the proper functioning of or that actually causes damage to or the interruption or impairment of the proper functioning of any computer, computer network, computer system, or part thereof [...]

Note that this applies to any target computer, and the prosecution would not have to prove that the computer was used in, or affected, interstate or foreign commerce or communication.

Other states most likely have similar laws.

19
  • 1
    The statute only covers computers outside the United States if they are "used in a manner that affects interstate or foreign commerce or communication of the United States." Russian military infrastructure would not necessarily meet this definition.
    – phoog
    Commented Nov 28, 2022 at 10:54
  • 1
    @phoog: If the target computer is accessible from the United States, I think the spirit of Trotter would argue that it therefore affects the foreign communication of the United States. If it's not, then I don't know how someone "located in the US" (as posited in the question) is going to hack it. Commented Nov 28, 2022 at 14:56
  • 1
    Trotter seems to turn on the fact that the computers were used in interstate commerce. That is the case because they "were used to communicate with other computers outside the State of Missouri." A foreign computer that is not used to communicate with the United States would not meet this test, at least arguably. There is enough to differentiate this case from Trotter that its applicability is not clear.
    – phoog
    Commented Nov 28, 2022 at 15:07
  • 1
    @phoog: I agree it's not 100% clear and I haven't found a case more directly on point. That said, Trotter suggests that in general, the definition will be applied very broadly. In particular, it could be argued that the defendant hacking the computer was, itself, an instance of the computer communicating with the United States. Commented Nov 28, 2022 at 15:11
  • 1
    @phoog: Just in case that argument does not fly, such hacking is also likely to be in violation of state law, which does not need to be limited to interstate or foreign commerce or communications. I added a citation of Colorado's law. Commented Nov 28, 2022 at 15:34

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .