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A German article in PC Welt (PC World) claims to list a number of "illegal hacker tools".

The list includes:

Are these programs, themselves, illegal in Germany?

In my understanding, just the use of a program, that may be an illegal action, but that the software itself is not illegal.

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And it goes on... – S Vilcans Jun 17 '14 at 10:00
As far as I know, you can't export software from the US, for example, to countries which it has an embargo on. Also, some cryptography software (not cryptography keys, the software used to manipulate them) can be treated as weapons when it comes to exporting. – professorfish Jun 17 '14 at 13:21
Welcome to Skeptics!. When I search for the term "illegal programs", I find this question as the number 1 result. Please link to someone making a claim that "illegal programs" exist, so we can assess their claim. – Oddthinking Jun 17 '14 at 14:28
@Oddthinking The link in the OP is to a .de site; and cracker tools may be illegal in Germany:… – ChrisW Jun 18 '14 at 9:09
@Articuno, the fact that the list appears in a German site, doesn't mean that it's localized to Germany, or German speaking countries. If the list doesn't specify that it applies only to Germany, than it can be assumed that a (German) reader of the list will also not a assume that the list is localized to Germany. – Ilya Melamed Jun 18 '14 at 19:23
up vote 14 down vote accepted

Yes, there is a Law, 202c StGB, which prohibits several things in relation to computer programs:

(1) Wer eine Straftat nach § 202a oder § 202b vorbereitet, indem er 1. (...) 2. Computerprogramme, deren Zweck die Begehung einer solchen Tat ist,

herstellt, sich oder einem anderen verschafft, verkauft, einem anderen überlässt, verbreitet oder sonst zugänglich macht, wird mit Freiheitsstrafe bis zu einem Jahr oder mit Geldstrafe bestraft.

That means: Who prepares a law violation as in § 202a and b, which is spying on data and catching foreign data by producing, organizing, selling, renting or spreading a program or giving access to such a program can be punished with jail or a monetary penalty.

In former times, only the concrete action was prohibited (202 a and b). In the discussion of the law in the parlament, which I followed in full length and discussed at multiple occasions, many experts argued that the possible victims of such programs need access to them to defend themselves. That the tool in itself isn't evil, only some uses.

The parties which argued for the law didn't solve the conflict, that they wanted to restrict production and spreading of such tools in general for prophylactic reasons and the idea only to ban bad usage.

The problem has now to be solved in court. The judges can refer in their decision not only to the text of the law, but to the protocols of the debate in the parlament to make a decision in the spirit of the law. AFAIK, the law is in force for about 5 years now, but got recently fresh attention by a commercially available hacking tool and the house search by police of many people, who ordered that tool.

But there is not a definitive list of software which is affected by the law. The court has to rule in each single case.

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This is the closest answer to my original question (and also to the one written above). Thank you. So if there is an application with good purposes, but which you can abuse, there is no concrete law (at least in Germany). :) – TrudleR Jun 22 '14 at 9:32

Computer Games are programs and there are many computer games banned in various countries around the world due to their content, which are summarized in a Wikipedia article on the issue.

Specifically in Germany, some games can be prohibited for dissemination, but are still legal for

[p]rivate possession (and thus playing it) and acquisition (such as downloading a demo from the Internet)

The possible reasons for banning a game are violence or dissemination of Nazi symbols in any way:

§ 86a outlaws the use of symbols of unconstitutional organizations, § 130 Volksverhetzung (agitation of the people), and § 131 instructions for crimes. In the official lists, these three sections are always bundled, so any action game that contains swastika flags and/or any depiction of Adolf Hitler) is listed alongside racist propaganda pieces.

§ 131 outlaws representation of violence in media "which describe cruel or otherwise inhuman acts of violence against human beings in a manner which expresses a glorification or rendering harmless of such acts of violence or which represents the cruel or inhuman aspects of the event in a manner which injures human dignity."[25]

§ 130 and § 131 make it to a criminal offense to do following with corresponding scriptures:

  • distributing / selling
  • issuing in public, demonstrating or otherwise making available
  • leaving it to a person under the age of 18
  • producing, buying, delivering, storing, offering, announcing, praising, importing or exporting to use them within the meaning of the letters 1 to 3.

This means, that the import or purchase and the possession for personal use are still legal for persons over 18 years.

A list of all currently banned games, and games on which the ban has expired (the ban is for 10 years) appears in the wiki article.

It should be noted that the list is relatively short, because game publishers publish edited or cut versions of their games in Germany in order to comply with local laws:

The game Return to Castle Wolfenstein was edited to not mention the Nazis directly by name or symbol:

In the German version of the game, it avoids making direct reference to Nazi Party and the "Third Reich", in order to comply with strict laws in Germany. The player is not battling Nazis but a secret sect called the "Wolves" led by Heinrich Höller, whose name is a pun of the original character Himmler (Himmler roughly translates as "Heavener", Höller as "Heller"). The Nazi swastika is also not present, the German forces use a Wolfenstein logo which is a combination of a stylized double-headed eagle prominent in most Nazi symbolism, a "W" (standing for Wolfenstein), and the Quake III: Team Arena "QIII" logo (the game engine and network code that RTCW is based upon).

And the games in the Grand Theft Auto series were edited to be less violent. From the GTA Wikia:

Since Germany is quite strict on ratings, after paranoia over violent video games, a number of the GTA games (since GTA III) have suffered cuts or edits. Some examples include: the removal of blood, pedestrians no longer dropping money when killed, no headshots, some missions removed, some weapons missing, or lack additional functionality.

Most countries that ban games, ban them because of depictions of violence. Some countries also ban games because of other content, like South Korea, which bans games that have content which reflects on North Korea to:

avoid increasing diplomatic tensions

other reasons include nudity and sexuality, offensive to the culture, nationality or religion of the country and other various reasons.

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Your answer touches only the scope of games, which were not even mentioned in the question. – user unknown Jun 19 '14 at 13:20
@userunknown, computer games are a subset of computer programs, they are not the software mentioned in the list itself but are "some software" as the question asks. This is obviously only a partial answer that doesn't touch on the main issue of the question, but it's still an answer to the question which adds information which is (in my view) relevant. – Ilya Melamed Jun 19 '14 at 14:17
agitation of the people (in your Wikipedia quote) is a bad, watered-down translation of Volksverhetzung. The article on that specific word translates it as incitement of hatred against a segment of the population, which is much more accurate. – codesparkle Jun 20 '14 at 13:32
@codesparkle, add this information through an edit. – Ilya Melamed Jun 20 '14 at 13:52
Computer games aren't "illegal hacker tools". Either the edit of the question was wrong, than it needs to be rolled back, or the answer is off topic. – user unknown Jun 20 '14 at 17:54

Yes, programs can be illegal in many jurisdictions. For example distribution or sale, and in some jurisdictions even possession, of tools (be it physical or software), which exclusive use is hacking is illegal in most countries.

For example 18 U.S. Code § 1029 - Fraud and related activity in connection with access devices:

(9) knowingly uses, produces, traffics in, has control or custody of, or possesses hardware or software, knowing it has been configured to insert or modify telecommunication identifying information associated with or contained in a telecommunications instrument so that such instrument may be used to obtain telecommunications service without authorization; or

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Although, exceptions are made, of course, for people with legitimate business use. It's like carrying a prybar or a set of lockpicks. It's reason enough for the police to bring you in, but they still need to prove intent. – Sean Duggan Jun 17 '14 at 12:36
@SeanDuggan IANAL, but according to above wouldn't even mere possession be a crime? – vartec Jun 17 '14 at 12:51
Further down in the code,, they list exceptions, including use to prevent hacking. – Sean Duggan Jun 17 '14 at 12:56
g.2: In a prosecution for a violation of subsection (a)(9), (other than a violation consisting of producing or trafficking) it is an affirmative defense (which the defendant must establish by a preponderance of the evidence) that the conduct charged was engaged in for research or development in connection with a lawful purpose. – Sean Duggan Jun 17 '14 at 14:12
This doesn't address the question in its current form, which asks about Germany. – Flimzy Jun 18 '14 at 18:33

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