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(Not sure if this question should be in the Law.SE, but it is deeply political)

American hacker says he keeps turning off internet in North Korea

This sounds pretty crazy to me because:

  1. Denial-of-service attacks sound like they should be illegal, and indeed they apparently are in the US.
  2. The US has been complaining of Russian internet hackers for quite a while, so to not do something about their citizen who's doing the same to North Korea sounds hypocritical.

Yet if the above is correct then it's even more crazy to me that P4x (the American hacker) would go public, or that newspapers would cover it. Openly saying that one is doing something illegal, and telling newspapers about it, sounds pretty foolhardy.

I would like to know:

  • If it is actually illegal to take down North Korea's internet in the US.
  • If it is illegal, why P4x apparently doesn't care about law enforcement coming down on his head (and the newspapers reporting on it also don't care about reporting on an illegal activity, and why I haven't seen coverage about US law enforcement arresting P4x).
  • If it is not illegal, then what the limits of what exactly is cybercrime are, since the US is complaining about Russian cyberattacks.
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    As an article from Wired says, P4x "declined to use his real name for fear of prosecution or retaliation." So he obviously thinks that it may be illegal. Why is he not arrested? Because you can't arrest Internet handles, you have to know who and where the actual physical person is. Why are newspapers reporting on illegal activities? They always do, that is a large part of what investigative journalism is about. See also: Pablo Escobar interview, El Chapo interview.
    – Obie 2.0
    Feb 7, 2022 at 2:56
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    The U.S. is still formally at war with North Korea. This would probably impact any case arising from the incident.
    – ohwilleke
    Feb 7, 2022 at 5:27
  • Also, boasts to a reporter are not evidence, and I don't think they'd even be considered probable cause without corroboration. Feb 7, 2022 at 10:32
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    Your first and third questions are about the law. Your second question is not, but you could reasonably ask about the evidential status of boasts to newspaper reporters. So overall you would be better on Law.SE. Feb 7, 2022 at 11:16
  • I would think if it's accepted to try to starve civilians in sanctions-targeted countries (Yemen is a favorite, but DPRK is among them), few would lose sleep over messing with their internet
    – Pete W
    Feb 7, 2022 at 15:33

1 Answer 1

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The most relevant law is 18 U.S. Code § 1030 - Fraud and related activity in connection with computers.

Now, recall that the commerce clause only gives Congress the right to pass federal law to regulate interstate and international commerce, and this act is written to be constitutional. So it states:

Whoever ... knowingly causes the transmission of a program, information, code, or command, and as a result of such conduct, intentionally causes damage without authorization, to a protected computer ... shall be punished.

Now a "protected computer" is one

which is used in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce or communication, including a computer located outside the United States that is used in a manner that affects interstate or foreign commerce or communication of the United States.

Now the point here is that nearly all computers that are connected to the internet are potentially used in a manner that affects foreign communication of the USA.

If you "turn off the internet in NK" you are affecting the ability to communicate with NK.

Now it may be argued that computers in NK are so rarely for communication with the USA that this clause would not apply. This might be argued in court. However generally DOS attacks on foreign computers are illegal because such attacks affect the ability of the US to engage in foreign commerce.

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    Regarding protected computers, communication does not have to be with the US. As I understand it based on page 4 (pdf page 10) of the Justice Department manual for Prosecuting Computer Crimes, any computer which is used to access the internet is one which is 'used in interstate or foreign communication'.
    – JJJ
    Feb 7, 2022 at 22:27

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