The U.K.’s federal law enforcement agency is asking British parents to keep an eye on their kids’ computer habits after determining that the average age of individuals suspected of hacking is only 17 years old.
Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA) began rolling-out a campaign on Tuesday this week, dubbed #CyberChoices, which aims to educate parents of the potential repercussions of seemingly innocuous cybercrimes after an analysis of investigations undertaken within the last year led the agency to put the average age of suspected computer hackers at 17, down from 24 one year prior.
“Over the past few years the NCA has seen the people engaging in cyber crime becoming younger and younger,” Richard Jones, the head of the NCA’s National Cyber Crime Unit’s Prevent team, said in a statement, adding: “We know that simply criminalizing young people cannot be the solution to this and so the campaign seeks to help motivate children to use their skills more positively.”
“We have aimed the campaign initially at parents, because we know from research that they often are unaware of what their children are doing online. These individuals are really bright and have real potential to go on to exciting and fulfilling jobs. But by choosing the criminal path they can move from low level ‘pranking’ to higher level cyber crime quite quickly, sometimes without even considering that what they’re doing is against the law.”
A conviction handed down as the result of a cyber prank could hinder educational and career prospects, the NCA warned, and could potentially leave an individual unable to travel overseas.
The NCA’s campaign specifically singles out a freely available tool, the Lizard Stresser, that was touted by a group of hackers who called themselves the Lizard Squad and successfully used the software to take down the Playstation 4 and Xbox Networks late last year with a tactic called a distributed denial-of-service, or DDoS, attack. British authorities subsequently arrested seven individuals accused of using the tool to cripple websites, and all of them were under the age of 18.
Around 30 percent of U.K. businesses claim they have suffered from DDoS attacks, NCA reported earlier this year, but companies have hardly been the only ones affected: after British authorities announced earlier this year that they had arrested a half-dozen teenagers suspected of using the Lizard Stresser, the NCA’s own website was briefly brought down by a DDoS attack.
“Young people are becoming increasingly savvy and switched on to the world of cyber, something that is critical to the future defense of our country. The issue is keeping them on the right side of the law; many become attracted to the environment and the kudos they earn from getting involved in criminal activities,” said Dr. Robert L Nowill, the chairman of the British government’s Cyber Security Challenge—a government-endorsed program that intends to steer computer-inclined youngsters towards using their cyber skills for good.
As part of its #CyberChoices campaign, the NCA has released a list for parents of behaviors that “may indicate a young person is at risk of getting involved in cyber crime,” the likes of which includes an interest in programing, irregular sleeping patterns and antisocial behavior.
“If a young person is showing some of these signs try and have a conversation with them about their online activities. This will allow you to assess their computer knowledge proficiency so you can understand what they are doing, explain the consequences of cyber crime and help them make the right choices,” the agency implored.
In the U.S., meanwhile, a federal judge in Missouri this week sentenced a 33-year-old man to 12-months in prison for taking down a law enforcement-affiliated website last year with a DDoS attack as an apparent act of protest.