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National Crime Agency: Your kid could be a nasty interwebs hacker
Do they like coding? Or play with computers a lot?
The National Crime Agency (NCA) yesterday launched a campaign targeting "the UK's youngest cybercriminals", which – despite what was a genuine attempt to connect with both technically inclined youngsters and their Luddite parents – prompted ridicule and disbelief.
The campaign claims to be "aimed at educating the parents of 12-15 year old boys" who may be involved in cybercrime.
The Register understands 12-15 year old girls are probably too busy hacking hairdryers.
“Over the last year the average age of suspected cyber criminals featured in investigations involving the NCA has been 17 years old,” said an NCA press release, “compared to 24 in the previous year.”
An NCA spokesperson explained to El Reg that this massive discrepancy was produced by certain police operations, including "some bigger operations on malware and high-volume cybercrime, such as the use of the Lizard Stresser*."
"We tend to find that in debriefs with younger people, they often don't understand what they're doing is illegal – if they're using booters, or DDoS tools or stressers they may be called – to boot friends off of Minecraft," suggested the plod, concerned that such technical skills may be developed in a particular environment where the natural progression is towards serious cybercrime.
Speaking to the Cloudsec conference earlier this year, Oliver Gower, head of strategy, partnerships, and transformation for the NCA's National Cyber Crime Unit, noted that the NCA was struggling to deal with the volumes of data and intelligence it was receiving.
The data glut was causing considerable "resource challenges," according to Gower, who confessed that house visits by officers were not always possible. As we reported at the time, some miscreants – such as those launching denial-of-service attacks against websites – simply receive warning emails about their criminal activities.
We were told that there is a sense of proportionality when it came to these emails being sent in lieu of visits. Someone who had purchased the Blackshades remote access tool, for instance, may merely get an email making them aware that deploying it in certain ways is illegal.
Startlingly, the NCA listed an interest in coding and access to independent learning materials as a warning sign that children may be committing cybercrime. This is despite the Chancellor of the Exchequer throwing £20m at an Institute of Coding "for young people to gain affirmative training" in skills much needed for the future.
Additional "warning signs" highlighted by the NCA - while undoubtedly being welcome reasons for parents to engage with their children - had little connection to cybercrime, with some such as "social isolation" being far more indicative of depression or bullying.
Is your kid learning skills that will be essential in future? Can he or she master a computer? Did you know your child is a cyber-terrorist?
— Chris Williams (@diodesign) December 9, 2015
The warning signs are not internal guidance for what the NCA believes is suspicious behaviour. An NCA spokesperson explained to The Register that the agency was aware that some of the children involved in mischievous activity could well know far more than their parents when it came to technology.
"We don't want to dissuade children from pursuing these skills," The Register was told. "We don't want parents to prematurely terrorise their children."
These warning signs were admittedly crude, but also "targeted towards parents who aren't necessarily tech-savvy, and giving them room to initiate a conversation with their children."
Richard Jones, head of the NCCU's Prevent team, said: "Over the past few years the NCA has seen the people engaging in cyber crime becoming younger and younger. We know that simply criminalising 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.
"We want these young people, and their parents, to understand that choosing that path can result in a criminal record, can limit their choices for their future, and can put restrictions on their daily lives including the loss of access to the internet," added Jones.
Certainly The Register has no truck with people with any history of miscreance. ®
The Lizard Stresser is a stress-testing tool branded by Lizard Squad miscreants - which notably was used to DDoS the NCA themselves earlier this year.