Is Your Teenager a Hacker?

Research by Kaspersky Lab to mark Safer Internet Day 2016 reveals that one in ten (12 per cent) of 16 to 19 year olds in the UK know someone who has engaged in a cyber activity that could be deemed illegal. The poll found a third (35 per cent) would be impressed if a friend hacked a banks website and replaced the homepage with a cartoon, and a deeply worrying one in ten would be impressed if a friend hacked the air traffic control systems of a local airport.

Public awareness and understanding of the online behaviour of young people is vital, especially in light of the NCA’s recent finding that the average age of a cyber-criminal is now just 17 years old. There’s nothing new in teenagers being rebellious and pushing boundaries, what is new is how they are unwittingly involving themselves in the far more serious threats and dangers that lurk in the world of cybercrime.

“Rebellion, curiosity and an urge to demonstrate their independence are natural characteristics of the 16 to 19 age-group. As the first truly digital native generation, rebelling has simply become another aspect of their lives that can go digital. Cyber-crimes have become glamorised in society and represent an attack on the ‘system’ and allow individuals to express their teenage angst, in which they struggle to identify their place within society, and to achieve the kind of social validation and attention that many teenagers seek,” comments Dr Dimitrios Tsivrikos, Consumer and Business Psychologist at University College London.

“It’s frighteningly easy for teenagers to find their way into the dark corners of the internet today.  Specialist browsers required to gain access are freely available online and discussion groups used by cybercriminals are often open to outsiders.  Young people exploring, experimenting or taking their first steps towards making some easy money online can all too easily end up here in search of tools and advice.  Once in, they are vulnerable to exploitation for more complex schemes, perhaps being drawn into a fraudulent activity by playing the role of a money mule, or being asked to create a malicious program.  It’s far harder to get out than it is to get in,” comments David Emm, principal security researcher, Kaspersky Lab.

Kaspersky Lab urges parents to create an environment for their children where discussions are open and where both parties can agree on what constitutes safe and ethical behaviour online, and to understand the consequences of negative behaviour. The National Crime Agency recently launched a campaign specifically aimed at preventing young people from becoming involved in cyber-crime. It is vital that parents and teachers are aware and understand what to look out for in teenagers and also find ways to use cyber skills positively.

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