Free Hacking Tools Lure Teenagers Into Cybercrime

Young people are being sucked into a life of cybercrime thanks to the availability of free and easy-to-use hacking tools.

That is the claim from a National Crime Agency (NCA) report which examined the “pathways” taken by youngsters who become criminals.

The warning comes after the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed last year that cybercrime in the UK had nearly doubled.

Sweet Seventeen?

It seems that many youngsters are being lured into cybercrime after they initially become involved with game-cheat websites or forums, which show the youths how to change or “mod” games, the BBC quoted the NCA report as saying.

The typical age of people being interviewed and arrested for cybercrime is just 17 years old. Some are as young as 12 years old.

The average age of criminals involved in drug offences for example is much higher at 37 years old, and financial criminals tend to be 39 years old.

A couple of years ago an experiment found that hacking into a stranger’s laptop had become so simple that even a primary school child could be taught how to do it. Seven-year-old Betsy Davies was able to hack into a stranger’s laptop via an unsecured Wi-Fi network in just over ten minutes.

She was able to gain the knowledge necessary to carry out the hack by performing a simple Google search, which returned more than 11 million results along with almost 14,000 video tutorials showing up on YouTube.

Meanwhile the NCA report says that mentors, role models and positive opportunities could deter youngsters from committing cybercrime.

The NCA report was apparently compiled after a “small number of interviews with people arrested or cautioned for carrying out computer-based crimes as well as analyses of academic studies of offenders”.

It also uses data gathered from the numerous “cease and desist” visits (by police, computer experts etc) to youngsters the NCA identified as dabbling in malicious hacking.

The NCA report also apparently found that while the youngsters were involved in cybercrime, they were “unlikely” to be involved in theft, fraud, sex or harassment crimes.

And money doesn’t seem to be driving factor for these teenage hackers. Rather it is the availability of easy-to-use hacking tools, coupled with the low risk of being caught, and the perception that hacking is a victimless crime.

Silicon UK has approached the NCA for a copy of the report, but the crime agency has yet to respond at the time of writing.

Growing Menace

The NCA report about teenager hackers comes after multiple teenagers were charged in relation to the massive data breach at TalkTalk.

Last November a 17 year-old teenager pleaded guilty in a hearing in a Norwich court to taking part in the hack. A month later in December a second teenager pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey.

And hacking is not a victim-less crime. Earlier this year the Office of National Statistics (ONS) found that approximately two million people were hit by computer misuse cases in the year up to September 2016.

Meanwhile another study found those in London and Scotland were more likely to be targeted by financial cyber-crime than elsewhere in the UK.

Quiz: Do you know all about security in 2016?

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

View Comments

  • Looking back to the 90's Dominik Diamond was very transparent with antiestablishmentarianism while handing out 'cheats' on GamesMaster.

  • Targeting the availability of information, of knowledge is the "book burning" approach to crimes prevention.

    Without the knowledge out there, people's awareness of security risks drops like a stone. The pressure on developers to properly secure their services reduces and the inquisitive hacker/maker mindset had less positive channels to express itself.

    To try to demonise game modding (!) as some kind of gateway drug to serious crime is utter horse shit. People with the curiosity and aptitude to change things, to improve things beyond their original design is what invention and innovation is all about.

    You really think a generation of people exposed to this knowledge are going to put up with insecure apps and access points, or expose themselves to the risks that older generations reportedly do?

    Suppressing knowledge is not the approach we should be taking to security. That's sweeping the real problem under the carpet. All it does is change the cost profile of attacks; lower overall number of attacks, but die to the higher cost/risk, attackers seek bigger payoffs.

    Instead, actively teaching kids about infosec, their responsibilities and how they should safeguard themselves gives:
    * Some degree of immunisation against future threats
    * Lifts the cover on this stuff, so it's less of an off the grid, oldies don't know about this stuff, top secret, exciting, rebellious thing toward something teachers do know about, that is a part of modern life/tech
    * points people towards passive expressions of the curiosity that drives this, be that going from modding to game dev, from javascript hacking to web dev, cracking to cryptology, data mining to search engines, vulnerability leaking to responsible disclosure & contribution, system intrusion to white-hatting, hardware modding to inventing/electronics etc. etc.

    * Book burning vs. learning
    * Knowledge suppression vs dissemination
    * Informed minds vs. blissful ignorance
    * Active moral choices vs passive obedience
    * Creativity vs status quo

    You decide.

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