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It is not unusual for teenagers and young people to get involved in cybercrime activities at an early age. Many do it for fun without realising the consequences of their actions – but the penalties can be severe. Cybercrime isn’t a victimless crime and is taken extremely seriously by law enforcement. The teenagers that become involved in cybercrime often have a skill set that could be put to a positive use. Skills in coding, gaming, computer programming, cyber security or anything IT-related are in high demand and there are many careers and opportunities available to anyone with an interest in these areas.
What are some examples of cybercrimes that involve predominantly young offenders?
- Hacking – this involves gaining access into someone’s computer network without their permission, and then taking control and/or taking information from other people’s computers. Examples may include accessing the secure area on the school’s computer network and looking for test paper answers or trying to change test scores.
- Making, supplying or obtaining malware (malicious software), viruses, spyware, botnets and Remote Access Trojans is illegal. These programmes allow criminals to get into other people’s computers to carry out illegal activities. ‘Pranking’, by remotely accessing a friend’s computer when they don't know you are doing it and messing around is still illegal.
- Carrying out a DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack or 'booting' a DDoS is when a website is attacked by sending it lots of internet traffic. This means anyone who wants to visit that site won’t be able to access it. Booting someone offline whilst playing online games may seem like a harmless joke, but is still illegal.
- In most countries, if you are caught doing even something as simple as using a stresser to boot another player out of an online game, you could get under the Police radar and, if it keeps repeating, even a prison sentence
- Less experienced youngsters, also known as ‘script kiddies’, could use stressers to attack a website they dislike, or even their schools’ websites. They are often unaware that this is illegal and see it as a simple prank. However, it is a criminal activity and the consequences can be serious!
- Becoming involved with DDoS attacks is considered a gateway crime, leading to more serious activities, including ransomware attacks. Even though the youngsters do not pursue this activity for the financial rewards, they could become entangled in various illegal activities and even organized crime groups.
A permanent criminal record could affect education and future career prospects, as well as potential future overseas travel.
Young people getting involved with cybercrime could face, depending on the country
- A visit and warning from police, as well as a penalty fine
- Arrest and prison sentencing for serious offences
- Their computers being seized and being prevented from accessing the internet
Many children will have an active interest in coding and programming, spend a lot of time online and have independent learning materials. These are all signs of a healthy and positive interest in computing and extremely valuable skills to be encouraged to develop - but in a lawful way.
Advice for teachers
If you’re worried about one of your students speak to them about what is illegal, the consequences of cyber and crime and show them positive ways to use their skills (see above). You should also make the student’s parents aware of your concerns.
If you believe that your school is the victim of a cybercrime attack or a student is committing cybercrime, report to the local police: Report Cybercrime Online