GA State Bill Criminalizes Security Research

Tuesday, April 3, 2018 @ 05:04 PM gHale

A new bill passed by the Georgia State Senate last week now interprets all forms of unauthorized computer access as illegal.

While that may sound good, a white hat researcher finding and reporting security vulnerabilities could be considered a criminal and face jail time.

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The bill, which met fierce opposition from the cybersecurity community ever since it first became public, amends the Georgia code that originally considered only unauthorized computer access with malicious intent to be a crime.

“Any person who intentionally accesses a computer or computer network with knowledge that such access is without authority shall be guilty of the crime of unauthorized computer access,” the bill reads.

“Any person convicted of computer password disclosure or unauthorized computer access shall be fined not more than $5,000.00 or incarcerated for a period not to exceed one year, or both punished for a misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature,” the bill said.

The original code only made a crime out of the access of a computer or computer network without authority and with the intention of tampering with applications or data; interfering with the use of a computer program or data; or causing the malfunction of the computer, network, or application.

The main issue with the new bill is it does little to protect security researchers who find and responsibly disclose vulnerabilities.

It is possible that the new bill was created because a security researcher discovered a vulnerability in the Kennesaw State University election systems last year. The flaw was reported ethically and the researcher came clean after being investigated by the FBI.

However, the breach made it to the news and, because the state felt very embarrassed by the incident, the attorney general’s office apparently asked for law that would criminalize “poking around.”

The infosec community has already reacted to the passing of the bill, calling for a veto and pointing out not only that search engines such as Shodan could become illegal in Georgia, but also that security talent is highly likely to migrate to other states.



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