Types of Cyber Crimes and Their Penalties

By G.S. Jackson

Internet crime required new laws to confront new types of crime and familiar crimes performed through computers.
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With the advent of computers and networked communications, crime was affected in two ways. First, existing crimes were simply performed on the Internet, not changing in severity but only in practice. Second, new ways to commit crimes, or new ways to commit older crimes, were introduced, forcing the government to create new laws in response. Cyber crime usually falls under a few categories involving fraud, intellectual property, theft and abuse. Accordingly, new punishments were also introduced to correspond with particular cyber crimes.

Intellectual Property

One of the prominent crimes to rise with the Internet is piracy, or violations of intellectual property laws. This includes making copies of copyrighted items and selling them or giving them away. Items typically pirated online include movies, music and books. The punishment varies for the type of crime, but efforts to formalize piracy laws in the music industry have created a standard of a possible $250,000 fine or five years in jail, along with a felony conviction, for copying music.

Data Theft and Illegal Access

Data theft and illegal access to computer systems often go together and can come in two primary distinctions. The first is typically in the form of illegal access and theft from people or businesses, while the other is gaining access to computers and information from government computers. These crimes can result in jail sentences as short as a year and up to 20 years for multiple offenses.


Child protection laws typically involve child privacy and protection from exploitation. The Children's Online Protection and Privacy act requires that public places with computers that children can access, such as schools, must provide ways to filter objectionable content while providing privacy for the children using the computers. The exploitation of children through such items as pornographic images or videos can result in up to 30 years imprisonment for a single offense or more than 35 years for repeated offenses.


Fraud can occur online when a party or individual attempts to coerce another party to give up personal information or money through false pretenses. These crimes carry a punishment that varies due to the severity of the fraud. Other types of fraud include identity theft, where an individual uses the information of another individual, such as Social Security numbers, mailing addresses or bank accounts, to pass as that individual for the purpose of making purchases or stealing further information. Identity theft statutes typically fall under state jurisdiction, and different states carry different penalties for the crime.