by Jeremy Malcolm, Internet lawyer
Nowadays, hacking is something that affects everyone. If your Internet connection is a permanent one, odds are that you are personally on the receiving end of dozens, or even thousands, of attempts to hack into your computer system every day. Even though most hacking attempts are made by bored or curious teenagers ("script kiddies") rather than by serious and skilful crackers, most forms of hacking are a criminal offence no matter who commits them.
Under the current law, hacking is covered by the Federal Crimes Act. The relevant section basically says that anyone who by means of a facility operated or provided by a carrier, with intent to defraud any person and without authority, obtains access to data stored in a computer, may be committing an offence. Legislation which commenced in May this year may also make a hacker guilty of theft for "dishonestly appropriating" computer data which belongs to another person.
Soon, the law is expected to change. The new Cybercrime Act will create more hacking offences, and bring the old ones up to date. For example, it will be an offence to obtain unauthorised access to (or to modify or impair) restricted data, such as data behind a password-protected Web page. In addition, unauthorised impairment of electronic communications will be prohibited, which is intended to cover things like Denial of Service attacks, where the hacker doesn't intend to break into a computer system or network but just to bog it down.
Possession or control of data with an intent to commit a computer offence, and supplying such data, will also be against the law. This which would include possession of a list of hacked passwords, or a trojan virus or other tool that was intended to be used in hacking. The new laws will make it easier for the police to investigate computer offences, too; they will be able for example to require you to disclose any passphrase, password or private key that they need to decrypt encrypted data.