Leading solicitors specialising in defending internet & cyber crime offences (London & Manchester)
Olliers Solicitors are a criminal defence law firm based in Manchester and London with specialist solicitors dealing with all aspects of computer related crime.
Cybercrime and Computer Misuse Act 1990
The concept of cybercrime is relatively modern, although the relevant legislation dates back to 1990. Investigations into cybercrime can carry significant complexities and span jurisdictions. UK investigations are often part of wider investigation conducted by law enforcement around the world. The FBI are regularly at the forefront of this.
Cybercrime is of particular of particular relevance at the moment and the UK government have warned the public about the risk of cybercrime during the coronavirus pandemic.
Prosecutions for cybercrime are brought under the Computer Misuse Act 1990 (CMA). The CMA does not actually define a computer, and this is left to the courts who adopt the definition found in DPP v McKeown, DPP v Jones . Lord Hoffman defined a computer as “a device for storing, processing and retrieving information.”
The CMA details several offences:
Section 1: unauthorised access to computer material
It is an offence under section 1 to cause computer to perform a function with intent to secure access to a programme or data without authorisation. The accused must have knowledge that the access was unauthorised, recklessness is insufficient. Section 1 carries a maximum of two years’ imprisonment.
Section 1(2) shows that the intention of the accused not have to be aimed at a specific programme. Section 1(2) also includes for employees who deliberately exceed their authority and access areas of to which they are denied access.
Section 2: unauthorised access with intent to commit or facilitate commission of further offences
This offence involves the unauthorised access offence under Section 1 but adds an element of intention to commit or facilitate a more serious ‘further’ offence. A Defendant cleared of the Section 2 offence could still be convicted of under Section 1.
Offences could be theft by diverting electronic funds or gaining sensitive information for the purposes of blackmail. Section 2 carries a maximum penalty on indictment of five years’ imprisonment.
Section 3: unauthorised acts with intent to impair, or with recklessness as to impairing, the operation of a computer
This offence involves an (a) impair the operation of any computer, (b) prevent or hinder access to any program or data held in any computer; (c) impair the operation of any such program or the reliability of any such data; or enable any of the three aforementioned points above to be done.
The case of DPP v Lennon (2006) established that Section 3 is relevant to distributed denial of service attacks (DDoS). This offence carries a maximum sentence on indictment of 10 years’ imprisonment or to a fine or both.
Section 3ZA: unauthorised acts causing, or creating risk of, serious damage
This offence carries a maximum sentence on indictment is 14 years. However, Section 3ZA may carry a life a sentence if it caused or created a significant risk of serious damage to human welfare or national security, as defined in Section 3 (a) and (b).
Section 3A: making, supplying or obtaining articles for use in offence under Section 1, 3 or 3ZA.
This offences covers the market which comprises of electronic malware which can be used to access computer systems. The CMA does not define article but section 8 of the Fraud Act 20017 provides that an article includes any programme or data held in an electronic form. Section 3A(2) involves supplying an article likely to be used to commit an offence under section 1 or 3. This offence carries a maximum sentence on indictment is two years’ imprisonment.
Section 4 liability for the offences under sections 1, 3 or 3ZA requires proof of at least one significant link with the home country concerned. A significant link may entail: presence in the home country at the time of the offence. The victim’s presence in the home country. Online activity involving a server based in the home country.
Dark Web Allegations
The ‘dark web’ has been seen much in the media in recent years. Accessible via TOR it offers a degree of anonymity unlike the ‘normal’ internet.
Various prosecutions have come about through the illicit use of the ‘dark web’. Most famously was the arrest in America by the founder of the ‘Silk Road’ website Ross Ulbricht. Following that there were arrests in the UK of students who were buying and selling drugs on the Silk Road website. This investigation was led by the National Crime Agency in the UK and was the first case of its kind seen here. Olliers represented one of the defendants in that case.
Other allegations often arise from the dark web including the distribution of indecent material. Olliers have dealt with numerous cases involving the investigation and distribution of such material.
Distribution of ‘Pirated’ Copyright Material
Websites and file sharing platforms are often used to distribute films, videos and music illegally. Sometimes this is done by individuals and sometimes by groups. Olliers are currently representing a defendant alleged to be part of a group called ‘MiLLENiUM’ who are alleged to be responsible for the online distribution of film torrents prior to their official release. We are able to advise in relation to all aspects of the such cases and the implications of dealing with copyrighted and trademarked films and videos.
Hacking and Cyber Terrorism
Hacking is the misuse of computers. The Computer Misuse Act 1980 legislates for three offences:
- Unauthorised access to computer material;
- Unauthorised access to computer material with intent to commit, or facilitate the commission of, a further offence.
- Unauthorised modification of computer material
Computer misuse has been in the news recently with a labour MP having admitted hacking into a rivals website potentially falling foul of the law. There have been calls for reform in the area but so far no movement in this area.
If someone from the UK hacks into a foreign countries website then there is the possibility of extradition, particularly to Countries like the USA who are keen to prosecute such offences there. We are able to offer advise into extradition in tandem with the main proceedings. Often extradition to the USA can be avoided.
Another factor that can arise in such cases is whether the defendant has a medical condition relevant to proceedings. Sometimes defendants suffer from mental health conditions or autism which is relevant to the commission of the offence, mitigation and potential extradition proceedings. Olliers solicitors have provided training to all staff in how to deal with defendants with such conditions appropriately.
Terrorism Related Cyber Cases
The Terrorism Act 2000 allowed for an action designed seriously to interfere with, or seriously to disrupt, an electronic system to be categorised as a terrorist action if both of the following conditions are satisfied:
- It is designed to influence the government or to intimidate the public or a section of the public; and
- It is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause
For more information on terrorism related offences click here.
Identity Theft and Phishing Scams
Identity theft involves the theft of someone’s personal details and can be carried out by a number of different methods.
- Trashing – obtaining discarded documents from rubbish bins, or stealing documents from their owner.
- Phishing – sending emails purporting to be from a reputable organisation, in order to trick victims into revealing their personal information.
- Smishing – sending SMS text messages to trick victims into revealing their personal information.
- Vishing – using the telephone system to trick victims into revealing their personal information.
Although identity theft is not a specific criminal offence, there are a number of other criminal offences which may be charged in cases of identity theft and fraud. These include: theft, fraud by false representation, possession of articles for use in fraud, obtaining services dishonestly and false accounting.
Identity theft is also linked to the commission of other fraud offences such as credit card fraud, bank fraud, tax rebate fraud, benefit fraud and telecommunications fraud.
The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 created two new offences of stalking by inserting new sections into The Protection from Harassment Act 1997. This includes harassment over the internet sometimes defined as Cyber Stalking.
It is generally defined as the repeated use of electronic communications to harass or frighten someone, for example by sending threatening emails or forcing contact through social media.
Revenge porn was made an offence under section 33 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015. Previously, such cases were prosecuted under the Communications Act 2003, Malicious Communications Act 1988 or the Harassment Act 1997.
Revenge porn is the sharing of private sexual material, either photos or videos, of another person without their consent and with the purpose of causing embarrassment or distress. The images are sometimes accompanied by personal information about the subject, including their full name, address and links to their social media profiles.
The offence applies both online and offline and to images which are shared electronically or in a more traditional way so includes the uploading of images on the internet, sharing by text and e-mail, or showing someone a physical or electronic image. Click here to read more.
Indecent Images Cases
One of the most commonly prosecuted type of cases related to the internet are allegations of possession and distribution of indecent images. Olliers have vast knowledge and understanding of such cases and the best way forwards in cases.
In these types of cases it is important to seek advice at the earliest stage, preferably at the police station. In some circumstances it is possible to avoid prosecution at the first instance if good advice is given at an early stage.
If you end up being taken to court then we are able to provide realistic advice to you as to the best way forward with the case.
In some cases we can advise as to the best defence to put forward to try and avoid conviction.
In other cases, where there is an acceptance of guilt, it is a matter of damage limitation and we can advise as to the best way forward to try and avoid a custodial sentence. We recently advised a Polish national who committed offences in the UK and then returned to Poland where he resided at the time of sentence. We were able to persuade the court to impose a suspended sentence allowing him to return to Poland and continue with his life.
- Toby Wilbraham represented BH in relation to a nationwide investigation by the NCA relating to fraud, money laundering and computer misuse. It was alleged that BH had paid for access to ‘WeLeakInfo.com’ and had gone on to use stolen data to commit fraudulent activity. In 2020 the FBI closed down the website, which sold stolen account / password data to users who paid to access the website. The NCA subsequently investigators users who had been identified in the UK. BH was arrested as data showed that he had accessed the website. The NCA believed that was for nefarious purposes. In the course of the investigation, NCA officers discovered a bitcoin wallet which suggested large sums of money had passed through it, more than he could have legitimately earnt. Toby Wilbraham represented BH at the investigation stage and liaised with officers who dealt with the case. Ultimately no further action was taken against BH and arrangements were made to return the bitcoin that had been seized.
- MH was prosecuted for 2 counts which were deemed to have assisted and encouraged the co-defendant NC to commit a number of offences against the Company he previously worked at. NC had been made redundant and was aggrieved about this. He communicated with MH and discussed how he planned to get revenge against his former employers. The conversation was via WhatsApp and was used as evidence against them both. During the conversation MH ‘advised’ NC as to what he should do and made various suggestions to him. Thereafter NC launched a ‘cyber attack’ on his previous company during which he diverted funds into his own account, bought items using company funds, used a virus that shut down their website and blackmailed the company to regain access. Olliers successfully argued that MH shouldn’t get a custodial sentence for his role for an number of reasons primarily because he hadn’t envisaged the scale of the attack, that he had never been in trouble before and he offered to compensate the company for the damage caused. This was an excellent result in the circumstances and the outcome could have been more damaging.
- Represented a client at the Police Station and Court for involvement in a large scale global drug dealing group linked to the ‘dark web’ and notorious website ‘The Silk Road’. The client was a student at Manchester University at the time of his arrest that followed the arrest of the creator of the website Ross Ulbricht in America by the FBI. The National Crime Agency (NCA) led the investigation in this Country which involved evidence obtained from the FBI in America.
- Represented a client allegedly involved in ‘MiLeNNiuM’ group. MiLLeNNiuM was alleged to have had early access to a number of films and posted them on a member only access forum illegally. This led to an alleged fraud in the region of £1,500,000.
- Represented a client who was alleged to have interfered with websites shopping cart by altering values reducing cost for purchase.
- Represented a client at the Police Station who was alleged to have been trading Class A and Class C drugs over the ‘Dark Web’. Ultimately the client was only charged with possession of Class C drugs and received a financial penalty at court.
Need a Cyber Crime Criminal Solicitor?
If you are facing an allegation of internet or cyber crime, contact us by telephone on 0161 834 1515, email firstname.lastname@example.org or complete the form below to send us a message.