The National Crime Agency (NCA) launched a campaign to educate parents about the dangers of cyber crime after analysis of hacking investigations from the past year found the average age of suspects to be 17-years-old.
The campaign, branded CyberChoices, will teach parents of 12-15 year-old children about the forms of cyber tools often exploited by unwitting teenagers. Additionally, it aims to help parents and carers spot signs of potential problems and understand the consequences of computer misuse.
Cyber crime tools, often available to buy on the dark web, include denial-of-service (DoS) software and Random Access Trojans (RATs). They are commonly used in so-called hacktivism campaigns by groups such as Anonymous and Lizard Squad and often do not require actual ‘hacking' skills to operate.
Denial-of-service campaigns re-direct a large amount of web traffic towards a website with the aim of taking it offline, while RATs can be used to monitor or take over a victim's computer system altogether.
In one operation targeting users of the Blackshades RAT, the average age of the people arrested was 18 while the youngest purchaser of the software was 12 years old, the NCA revealed.
Richard Jones, head of the National Cyber Crime Unit'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.
"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."
The campaign is being supported by partners including GetsafeOnline, CREST and the Cyber Security Challenge, which hopes that the scheme will also ensure talented cyber youngsters can realise their skills can be used for good.
Dr Robert L Nowill, chairman of the Cyber Security Challenge UK, said: "Young people are becoming increasingly savvy and switched on to the world of cyber, something that is critical to the future defence 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."
He added: "We need parents to encourage their children to get involved with schemes, such as the Cyber Security Challenge UK, and channel these skills in a positive way."
Recently, the NCA website was knocked offline by a DoS attack, reportedly in retaliation for the crackdown on the Lizard Squad hacking collective.
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