White Hat hackers will breathe a little easier tonight. The US Department of Justice has announced new revisions to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) policy stating “good faith security research should not be charged for.”
This means that security researchers (i.e. hackers) who break into networks or find exploits in software and hardware will not be considered federal prosecution as long as they were acting in good faith. to promote the security and safety of “target devices and services”.
Here is what the DOJ defines as bona fide security:
“Good faith security research means accessing a computer solely for the purposes of testing, investigating, and/or correcting a security breach or vulnerability in good faith, when such activity is conducted in a manner to prevent harm to persons or the public, and where the information derived from the activity is used primarily to promote the safety or security of the class of device, machine or online service to which the computer accessed belongs , or those who use such devices, machines or online services.”
There are exceptions to this policy. For example, a hacker who uses the information obtained through their exploits to extort a company or a user of a compromised device can be prosecuted. Leaking or selling data acquired through an illegal network breach is also a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
“The department has never been interested in prosecuting good faith computer security research as a crime. Today’s announcement promotes cybersecurity by providing clarity to bona fide security researchers who eliminate vulnerabilities for the greater good,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco said.
Companies like Microsoft, Oracle, and even Valve offer bug bounties where they pay hackers to break into their software to increase security. In fact, there’s a big hacking event going on where they’ve turned bug hunting into a competitive sport for big cash prizes.
All federal prosecutors indicting cases under the CFAA must follow the new policy. The DOJ also explained that certain commonly frowned upon online activities, such as embellishing a dating profile, checking sports scores at work, or creating burner accounts, do not warrant criminal prosecution. Phew.
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