Computer Fraud and Abuse Act 101: A Guide For Web Entrepreneurs

computer-fraud-and-abuse-actWeb entrepreneurs beware.  If you think coming up with an idea, developing a business plan and then launching it on the Web was hard, try alleging a civil loss under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act in a business case.  Cheat codes for Xbox are easier to understand!

Case in point, here is the exact language from U.S. Code Title 18, Part 1, Chapter 47, §1030 of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) covering Fraud and Related Activity in Connection with Computers, A civil action for a violation of this section may be brought only if the conduct involves 1 of the factors set forth in subclauses (I), (II), (III), (IV), or (V) of subsection (c)(4)(A)(i). Damages for a violation involving only conduct described in subsection (c)(4)(A)(i)(I) are limited to economic damages.”   Whew, I’m tired just reading it!

So what is this all about?  There are many way to suffer loss as a web entrepreneur.  Violations of CFAA are particularly insidious because they are difficult to qualify and must satisfy a jurisdiction prerequisite before you can file a claim.  First, you need to know what constitutes a violation.  A violation occurs when someone accesses one of your computers without authorization or exceeds their authorized access to wrongfully alter, delete, or transmit information with the intent to harm or gain a competitive business advantage.  Most claims filed involve company insiders or former employees who leave “parting” gifts.

Next, let’s define what a “loss” under the CFAA is.   It is not the theft of intellectual property, no matter how valuable.  Nor is it gaining access to personal information or privacy invasion.  To file a civil claim under the CFAA, the loss must involve a direct cost that is greater than $5000.  An easy way to qualify a loss is to capture the cost of investigating, litigating and finally remediating the computer or computers where the violation occurred.  An even easier way is to hire an Internet lawyer.  Why?

An Internet lawyer can best coordinate, lead and manage the myriad of moving parts necessary to establish your case.  In some instances, a computer forensics team must be hired to quarantine the affected computers, gather evidence and, if necessary, restore deleted media.  All evidence must be accurately recorded and itemized for petitioning and court filing.  The cost of lost labor from your employees must be cataloged and captured.  And, finally somebody has to do the actual “lawyering”.  These expenditures often are enough to meet the $5000 loss requirement to file a civil claim under the CFAA.

As I was saying, being a web entrepreneur is tough enough without the added cost of restoring computer equipment that’s been used in a violation.  But, an Internet lawyer can make it as easy as… Y, Up, Right, Down, X, Left Trigger, White.

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