CyberDeviance In Teenagers Peaks By The Age Of 18: Survey
November 19, 2013

CyberDeviance In Teenagers Peaks By The Age Of 18: Survey

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Cyberdeviance and cybercrime activity among teenagers appears to begin around the age of 15 and peak at about the age of 18, a pattern seen with other types of misdemeanors and criminal offenses, according to a snapshot survey by researchers at the University of Cincinnati.

However, these tech-savvy teens are often more curious than criminal, the researchers said.

The survey involved 274 university students with both computing-oriented majors and non-computing majors who were asked about their teen activities related to 25 specific cyberdeviant activities or cybercrimes.

Overall, 71 percent of the respondents said they had engaged in cyberdeviant activity as a teen, with 80 percent of those with computing majors having done so and 58 percent of those with non-computing majors having done so.

“The most-common form of what we call cyberdeviant behavior consisted of guessing at a password to gain access to a wireless network, followed by guessing at another’s password, and knowingly accessing a wired network without authorization,” said lead researcher Mark Stockman, associate professor of information technology at University of Cincinnati.

The survey found no statistical difference between men and women in terms of having tried at least one cyberdeviant activity as a teen. Among students in non-computing majors, 62 percent of women reported participating in a cyberdeviant or cybercrime activity vs. 55 percent of men. For those with computing majors, 81 percent of men said they had engaged in cyberdeviance as a teen, compared with 66 percent of women.

These findings are distinct from those of more-traditional delinquent or criminal activities, where men are far more likely to commit offenses, the researchers said.

However, on average, male respondents reported having made more attempts as a teen at cyberdeviance or cybercrime than did female respondents. Men reported an average of five cyberdeviance or cybercrime activities among the 25 listed possibilities, while women reported an average of three.

Stockman noted that teen cyberdeviance might not be such a bad thing, as these are just the types of activities that IT programs teach and government and business-sponsored hacking contests encourage and reward.

The survey also asked respondents about their motivations for their cyberdeviant behavior, and found that more often than not it tended to be a matter of curiosity, or the desire to simply play a joke on a friend.

“The respondents reported wanting to test out software or to solve a computer logic puzzle or to play a joke on a friend. Sometimes, they wanted to help improve a system’s security, or they felt it was wrong for a hotel to charge $15 for wireless access,” Stockman said.

In regards to the most common form of cyberdeviance reported in the snapshot survey, 52 percent of respondents reported they had at least once guessed at passwords to gain access to a wireless network. Some 42 percent of the students said they had guessed at another’s password to get into his/her computer account or files, while 30 percent said they had knowingly accessed a wired network without authorization.

The least common forms of cyberdeviance and cybercrimes engaged in by the surveyed students were so-called “man in the middle” attacks, in which users are directed to altered sites when their data is intercepted and rerouted as it transits a network. For instance, traffic could be rerouted to a website to sell something, or a hacker could even redirect traffic going to a bank website to a fake website instead. Just four percent of the survey respondents said they had ever engaged in these types of cyber-attacks, while only three percent of those surveyed said they had ever knowingly sent out phishing or SPAM emails as teens.

Stockman said he and his team plan to expand the survey’s numbers, and to conduct it annually because he believes the onset age for cyberdeviance and cybercrime will trend downward in the future.

“In this first survey, we asked about the teen activities of those who were now, on average, 20 years old at the University of Cincinnati. When they were 15, today’s 20-year-olds did not have all the easy-to-use tools that are available to today. I would not be surprised if future surveys show that the onset of cyberdeviance begins at younger and younger ages, simply because the tools are becoming easier and easier to use,” he said.

The researchers will present their findings November 21 at The American Society of Criminology annual conference in Atlanta.