The reforms to the existing Computer Misuse Act were set in the Serious Crime Act which was finalised earlier this year, but new commencement regulations have confirmed that those changes will now come into effect on 3 May.
A new offence will be introduced under the reforms.
Under the new rules, a person will be guilty of an offence if they cause, or create a significant risk of, "serious damage of a material kind" in relation to a computer where the activity is unauthorised, where the person knew at the "time of doing the act" that their actions are unauthorised and they either intended to cause serious damage of a material kind or is "reckless as to whether such damage is caused".
Damage of a 'material kind' is defined under the new legislation as damage done to either human welfare in any place; the environment of any place; the economy of any country; or the national security of any country.
An individual could be said to have done damage to human welfare if their unauthorised actions cause loss to human life; human illness or injury; disruption of a supply of money, food, water, energy or fuel; disruption of a system of communication; disruption of facilities for transport; or disruption of services relating to health, according to the new rules.
Individuals convicted of breaching the new Computer Misuse Act rules will generally face up to 14 years in jail and/or a fine, but that penalty could be more severe in certain circumstances.
If individuals' actions cause or create a significant risk of loss to human life or illness or injury, or serious damage to national security they could be sentenced to life imprisonment.
Under the Computer Misuse Act that currently applies, the maximum punishment that can be imposed for the most serious computer hacking offences is a 10 year jail sentence and/or a fine.