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Computer hacking comes in all sizes, with some offences resulting in impairing systems that cost the owners hundreds of thousands of pounds.

What is the sentence for Computer Hacking in 2024?

Hovering over someone’s shoulder and looking at their passwords to enter their online accounts is the most basic form of computer hacking. Hacking into a banking system or a utility company is a large-scale crime that can result in the perpetrator being given a harsh penalty.

group of hackers

Something as simple as jailbreaking an iPhone is considered another type of hack. However, the most recognised and challenging form of hacking involves the relentless studying of a programme, identifying its weaknesses and creating software to exploit those weaknesses and deliver the ‘payload’.

A more recent case was when a hacker worked his way into a pornography site. He stole the emails of users and sent messages to them with regards to blackmailing. The resulting punishment on conviction was six years of imprisonment.

Past years has seen a growing obsession with the prosecution of Computer Hacking Offences. Since the cyber-world is without geographical boundaries, it is a gamble to anticipate which authorities will claim jurisdiction.

Given the FBI’s unparalleled experience and resources in pursuing hackers, the USA very quickly impedes on most medium to high profile investigations and seeks to extradite those accused of any Computer Hacking Offences. The likelihood of being convicted in a US court is not only higher than in the UK, but the expected sentences are most often shockingly lengthy.

You may recall a case of hacking in 2001 when a British man was found guilty of hacking into 97 computers belonging to the United States military and NASA. He faced up to 70 years in jail but he managed to avoid being extradited to the US.  He stated that he was looking for information on UFOs and evidence of suppression of that information.

To help you to understand what penalty you may receive as a result of being convicted of computer hacking, we’ve detailed the sentencing guidelines below.  Please note that a competent and experienced cybercrime solicitor may be able to get any prison sentence reduced or even avoid it entirely.

Read more information about the offence of Computer hacking

What type of actions are considered computer hacking?

As previously mentioned, computer hacking can range from very minor offences such as jailbreaking an Apple iPhone to hacking into military computers that belong to other countries.

Typically, our previous clients took actions that put them into trouble because they overstepped the mark when it came to hacking. Their interest led them to enrol in an educational course on ethical hacking, but they then went too far and committed a crime.

There are three offences contained in the Computer Misuse Acts 1990, these are:

Unauthorised access to computer data – in some cases, our clients have been unwittingly caught up in an investigation without realising that their actions are unlawful.

Unauthorised access with intent to commit or facilitate the commission of further offences – our legal team have the technical, legal and strategic experience to guide you every step of the way through your computer hacking investigation.

Unauthorised acts with intent to impair, or with recklessness as to impairing – many cybercrimes are borderless by nature, you need legal assistance, cross-border disclosure and there may even be extradition involved in your case.

To help you to understand what the outcome might be as a result of being convicted of computer hacking offences, we’ve detailed the sentencing guidelines below.  Please note that a competent and experienced solicitor may be able to get any prison sentence reduced or even avoid it entirely.

What is the average sentence for computer hacking offences?

Depending on what you are convicted of, the sentence can be anything from a community sentence to life imprisonment. You may also receive a fine. If you’re convicted of hacking into the computers of another country, the penalty may even be more severe.

There may also be other offences related to the hacking offence that you may be given a penalty for including:

  • Disruption of computer functionality
  • Fraud
  • Forgery and Counterfeiting
  • Money laundering
  • Breach of the Data Protection Act 1998
  • Selling or purchasing illegal goods

What mitigating factors may be considered in sentencing for computer hacking?

When sentencing for computer hacking offences, your case will be investigated thoroughly by the police and other regulatory agents.

Part of this investigation will be looking at whether your case was part of a group activity designed to make a significant amount of money or something you have done just for yourself or a couple of friends.

Certain aspects of a case are known as the mitigating aspects which can influence the sentence that a judge gives. One of the factors judges consider in every case of this nature is the defendant’s level of genuine remorse.

The following are some of the other factors considered when the court decides which sentence to give. They will look at:

  • Any previous convictions
  • Your level of cooperation with the investigation
  • Whether the activity you took part in was originally legitimate
  • Your reputation / good character
  • Whether you have any serious medical conditions that require long term, urgent or intensive treatment
  • Whether you have a learning disability or a mental disorder
  • Whether you are the sole or primary carer for related dependents

Is it possible to reduce a sentence for computer hacking with a guilty plea?

In recent years, a number of changes have been made to the sentencing system in the UK to save the court time and cost and to protect witnesses from the stress of needlessly going through a trial. For offenders aged 18 and over, pleading guilty early on in a case can reduce a sentence by as much as one third (maximum). The later the plea is entered, the smaller the reduction.

  • ‘Early on’ refers to ‘the first stage of the proceedings’ and means anytime up to and including the first hearing at the Magistrates Court or Crown Court for indictable offences.
  • If a plea is entered 14 days after the first hearing, for example, the maximum level of reduction is just 20% or one fifth of the sentence. For indictable offences, the limit for a guilty plea to be made is within 28 days after the prosecutor has stated compliance with section 3 of CPIA 1996 and serving disclosure; although the decision is ultimately in the hands of the Judge who has discretion to apply whatever credit is deemed appropriate.
  • After these times there is a sliding scale of credit applied. This goes down to one tenth on the first day of the trial and to zero if entered during the course of the trial. In theory, the ten percent could be given if the plea is issued after the opening speeches on the first day, but prior to any witness evidence being heard.
  • If the accused does not want to plead guilty, then it’s important for the solicitor to regularly inform the court throughout the trial of the reasons why the client’s plea is not guilty.

What are some of the other consequences of a computer hacking offence?

Ancillary Orders

A court can also make ancillary orders on a defendant if they are found guilty and convicted of a computer hacking offence. These are extra elements of punishment that can be added to a sentence and include additional restrictions or requirements that can affect a dependent’s finances, your property or business or financial activity.

Ancillary orders that are typically added to the penalty for those who are found to be guilty of computer hacking offences include:

  • Compensation for loss
  • Restraint orders
  • Victim’s surcharges
  • Reparation orders
  • Financial reporting order
  • Disqualification from directing a company
  • Confiscation orders

In addition, the court may demand payment of the following if the accused is convicted:

Payment of costs applied for by the prosecutors

Although the police meet some of the costs involved in the prosecution, the costs of investigation are typically sought from the convicted. These may include the costs of:

  • The work done in obtaining enough evidence for prosecution either at the initial stage or later at the request of Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)
  • Seeking medical or expert evidence as part of the investigation, (where a witness is required to attend Court, the cost of the attendance falls on the CPS).
  • Re-interviewing witnesses
  • The entire costs of the prosecutor, including fees for the use of external Barristers used by the CPS, can be recovered from the defendant, subject to means. At the end of the case, the prosecutor under The Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 will request the Judge to order a sum to be paid for the costs incurred by the prosecutor in bringing the prosecution.

Victims surcharges

The term victims’ surcharges can be explained as paying compensation to a fund for victims and can range between £20 to £170 depending on what sentence you were given at conviction.

How sentences can be added to national information databases

There are several national databases that hold information about individuals and any allegations made about them, their criminal and court records. These include the DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) which was previously known as the CRB (Criminal Record Bureau) and the Police National Computer (PNC).  Depending on what happened, whether the accused is convicted and what sentence was issued, the accused may be added to one or all these databases. Their purpose is to provide information to potential employers and to regulate the ability to take part in certain activities.

If your case progresses to court and you are convicted of computer hacking, your conviction will be noted on your CRB / police record. The period of the endorsement will depend on the nature and length of your sentence.

Below are details on how long you will be listed as holding a criminal record if convicted. This is something very serious to consider when it comes to future employment. The term ‘spent’ refers to when your name can be removed from the databases.

Rehabilitation Period
(the time it takes for the sentence to become ‘spent’)
Sentence Adult (aged 18+) at time of conviction Young person (aged under 18) at time of conviction
Prison sentences of more than 4 years Sentence is never spent Sentence is never spent
Prison sentences of more than 2.5 years (30 months) but less than 4 years Sentence length 7 years Sentence length 3.5 years
Prison sentences of more than 6 months but less than 2.5 years (30 months) Sentence length +4 years Sentence length +2 years
Prison sentences of less than 6 months Sentence length + 2 years Sentence length +18 months
Conditional Discharge Length of order Length of order
Absolute Discharge None None
Conditional Caution 3 months 3 months
Simple Caution / Youth Caution None – immediately ‘spent’ None – immediately ‘spent’
Other Including Compensation Order, Supervision Order, Bind Over, Hospital Order Length of the order / once compensation is paid Length of the order / once compensation is paid

How Can Stuart Miller Solicitors Help?

As you read this, you may be feeling frightened and concerned about what might happen to you. The best action to help you to feel better immediately and to improve your situation is to take early action. Contact a computer hacking or cybercrime solicitor who is competent and experienced.

The computer hacking lawyers at this firm are experts in the field of cybercrime legal defence. We understand that hacking is performed by sophisticated technology users exploring new ways of using hardware or software; not criminals. Our cybercrime solicitors appreciate that the hack may not be illegal, or that your skill may not have been invested with wrongful intentions. We have specialist skill in defending hackers or those accused of using any form of malware to commit cybercrime.

Our cybercrime solicitors are familiar with a wide range of computer hacking offences of every size and complexity. Whether it’s hacking into the operating system of an iPhone or finding a way into the financial accounts of a commercial enterprise, they have the expertise and experience to represent you in your case.

By engaging our computer hacking lawyers, you will be providing yourself with a strong defence, guidance and support from experts.

What will happen when I instruct a cybercrime lawyer?

If you are facing an allegation of computer hacking, regardless of the seriousness of the accusations being made, it is vitally important that you contact us and arrange to meet with a specialist cybercrime solicitor. Your allocated team will be at the forefront of the cybercrime defence world and you will be supported in achieving your objectives every step of the way.

We will study the allegations and identify legal, factual and technological defects in the case. We will obtain your instructions and absorb your knowledge of computer hacking, where it exceeds ours. We will work with you to ensure that unlawfully obtained evidence or evidence which is not free of ambiguity is never used to prosecute you.

We will engage with forensic computer and networking experts to challenge the prosecution’s allegations and present the findings in a way that the jury will not only understand but also believe.

Have you been charged or arrested for computer hacking?   

If you or somebody close to you has been charged or arrested in connection with computer hacking, it’s likely that you’ll be feeling stressed and worried about having to speak to the police and potentially attend a court case. You’ll be wanting to know what the outcome is likely to be. Will you be imprisoned for your involvement in a cybercrime?

The first step that the police or other prosecutors are likely to take, is to invite you to the police station. This may be ‘sold’ to you as being in the form of a ‘chat’ for the police to understand your side of the story. However, the conversation will be taped and the police will be looking for ways to trick you into incriminating yourself.

The goal of the police will be to try to convict you. If you don’t have a legal professional with you, they may even trick you into incriminating yourself. The police are trained in different interviewing techniques, some of which are designed to get you into court and be convicted.

The benefit of engaging an experienced cybercrime solicitor is that they can examine your case, request to see evidence from the prosecutor and begin crafting a strong defence strategy for you. It may even be possible to get your case dismissed so that you don’t ever progress to the court stage. Alternatively, there may be a way to negotiate outside of the court system.

A computer hacking lawyer will know what to look for and what to avoid. They will guide you on what to say and what not to say. They will demand to see any evidence that the police or prosecutors have against you.

Your lawyer will also have access to a strong network of expert witnesses to call on to study any evidence that is produced by the police. The expert witnesses we use in cases of this nature are often technology experts who will be able to look at your computer, what you were doing that has resulted in the current situation and will be able to investigate who was using your computer at the time of the alleged offence. Our experts will also take a look at your other communication devices to understand what evidence the police may have.

Once you have a competent solicitor on your side, you will feel a sense of relief. We recommend that under no circumstances should you attend a police interview without taking a legal professional into the room with you. Do not communicate with the police without taking the guidance of your lawyer.

Computer Hacking & Autism / Asperger’s Syndrome

If you have any medical conditions or other personality traits which may have impacted your involvement with the computer hacking allegations, we will investigate those and obtain professional opinions from expert witnesses for the court.

An example of this is that recent studies have started to connect Autism and Asperger’s with computer hacking. Professors who are studying the subject seem to have concluded that Autistic people develop a fascination with ‘solving complex problems’ and are not motivated by financial greed when involved in computer hacking. Further studies have analysed the age of those accused of computer hacking offences and found the average age to be around 17 years.

Would you like to discuss your case before instructing us?

If you’d like to have a no-obligation chat with us before you instruct us to take your case, then call us today.

Please contact our computer hacking lawyers and cybercrime solicitors to arrange your meeting. You may prefer to do this face to face, online or by telephone. If you prefer, you can also send us a WhatsApp message using the link in the bottom banner if you are viewing this page on a mobile phone device.

Get in touch with us now for computer hacking legal help.


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