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computer crimes

Are Programmers Liable If Hackers Misuse Software?

In 2012, Taylor Huddleston created what is known as a remote management tool, a piece of software that allows users to remotely log keystrokes, download stored passwords, turn on the web cam, access files, and watch a computer screen in real time. Designed, he says, to help low-income users who couldn't afford more expensive remote-access programs monitor online activity for safety reasons, NanoCore was going to be Huddleston's ticket out of a trailer he lived in on his mother's property and into a real house. And it worked -- Huddlestone sold NanoCore and another piece of software called Net Seal and was able to buy a $60,000 home. But FBI agents and police raided that home last December, and are now charging Huddlestone conspiracy and aiding and abetting computer intrusions, for all the times hackers used NanoCore to commit crimes. Illegal IT So should Huddlestone be criminally liable if he didn't intend his software to be used for hacking? His attorney, Travis Morrissey, likens the case to firearms manufacturers: "Everybody seems to acknowledge that this software product had a legitimate purpose," he told the Daily Beast. "It's like saying that if someone buys a handgun and uses it to rob a liquor store, that the handgun manufacturer is complicit." Thus far, courts haven't held firearms makers liable for criminal acts committed with their products, but computer crimes laws are written a bit differently. One factor might be where Huddlestone chose to market his software: HackForums.net. As the Daily Beast points out: It would soon become clear that it was a terrible place to launch a legitimate remote administration tool. There aren't a lot of corporate procurement officers on HackForums. Instead, many of Huddleston's new customers had purely illicit uses for a slick remote access tool. Illegal Intent? Huddlestone quickly found out what his buyers were using the software tool for, and, to his credit, attempted to curb illegal activity using NanoCore: In short order, Huddleston found himself routinely admonishing people not to use his software for crime. "NanoCore does not permit illegal use," he wrote in one post. In another, "NanoCore is NOT malware. It is intended to be used legitimately and I don't want to see words like 'slave' and 'infect.'" Huddleston backed his words with action. Whenever he saw evidence that a particular buyer was using the product to hack, he'd log in to Net Seal and disable that user's copy, cutting the hacker off from his infected slaves. But these efforts may not be enough. By then the cat was out of the bag and hackers were trading in copies of NanoCore that bypassed Huddlestone's disabling efforts. Now, he's looking at jail time for making a product he thought would help people. Related Resources: Browse Criminal Defense Lawyers by Location (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Programmer Faces Federal Charges for Creating Software Used by Hackers (ABA Journal) What Are the Criminal Penalties for Hacking? (FindLaw Blotter) When Is Computer Hacking a Crime? (FindLaw Blotter)
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Is ‘Just Kidding’ a Valid Legal Defense?

Can "just kidding" be an effective legal defense? As we observe the prankiest of "holidays," April Fools' Day, there will be more than one jokester who invokes "JK" as a defense. While "just kidding" may placate coworkers and friends in social situations, it may have mixed success in court. 'Just Kidding' = No Intent For example, many crimes require a specific mental state or intent in order to find a defendant (even a joking one) guilty. So it's possible you may be able to pull the following pranks but lack the necessary specific intent for a crime: Hiding or "stealing" things. It may be hilarious to take your co-worker's phone and encase it in Jell-O, but not if he or she calls the cops. Luckily for the prankster, theft requires an intent to permanently deprive the owner of his or her property, and unless you accidentally destroyed something during a joke, you probably lack that intent. Messing with food. There are already various YouTube videos describing how to transform mundane office foods into prank fodder -- like filling donuts with mayo. But you can potentially avoid poisoning charges (even if someone is allergic to your prank) as long as you didn't knowingly try to harm anyone. A fatal prank. If popping out from behind a fern while wearing a Richard Nixon mask causes your boss to have a heart attack and die, it's unlikely you would be charged with murder. You would lack the malice necessary since you were really "just kidding." "JK" isn't a perfect defense, though. Torts, Crimes Even When 'JK' Even if you're "just kidding," a prank can still get you jailed and/or sued in civil court. Many crimes and torts do not require a specific intent: Some only require a general desire to do something illegal or a willingness to act negligently. For example, any "Home Alone"-style pranks that scare or somehow touch your intended victim might be considered criminal assault and battery. These pranks can also create liability in civil court for battery or assault, as even unintended victims would have a case against the jokester. And even if you were "just kidding" when you hijacked your friend's Facebook or Twitter account to post humorous messages in their name, you could still be hauled in front of a judge to answer for alleged computer crimes. Legal defense fees are no joke, and it won't work to say "just kidding" to a judge or jury. So on this April Fools' Day, and on any other day for that matter, try to be careful with your pranks. Related Resources: Harmless Horseplay is not a Harassment Defense (Auto Dealer Monthly) Sarcastic Facebook Threat Lands Teen in Jail (FindLaw's Blotter) Use iPhone for Attempted Robbery? Robber Says He's Just Kidding (FindLaw's Technologist) Yes, Bad Twitter Jokes Can Get You Fired (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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