October 27, 2008

Number Of Teenage Hackers Increasing

Experts are concerned over the increasing numbers of teenagers dabbling in hi-tech crime.

Teenagers swapping credit card numbers, phishing kits and hacking tips populate many net forums, computer security professionals say.

But the poor technical skills of many young hackers means they are very likely to get caught and arrested. Youth workers added that any teenager getting a criminal record would be putting their future at risk.

Chris Boyd, director of malware research at FaceTime Security, said he sees kids of 11 and 12 sharing credit card details and asking for hacks.

Teens often get involved in low-level crime by looking for exploits and cracks for their favorite computer games. Communities and forums spring up where people start to swap malicious programs, knowledge and sometimes stolen data.

Others search for exploits and virus code that can be run against the social networking sites popular with many young people. They then try to peddle or use the details or accounts they net in this way.

Boyd has spent a lot of time tracking down the creators of many of the nuisance programs written to exploit users of social networking sites and he said the culprit was often a teenager.

From such virus and nuisance programs many progress to outright criminal practices such as using phishing kits to create and run their own scams.

"Some are quite crude, some are clever and some are stupid," Boyd said.

But most teenagers' attempts to make money from cyber scams result in getting caught because of their poor technical skills.

"They do not even know enough to get a simple phishing or attack tool right," said Kevin Hogan, a senior manager Symantec Security Response.

"We have seen phishing sites that have broken images because the link, rather than reference the original webpage, is referencing a file on the C: drive that is not there," he said.

Many teenagers manage to cripple their own PCs by infecting them with viruses they have written, Symantec researchers said.

"Many of the young criminal hackers were undermined by their desire to win recognition for their exploits," said Chris Boyd from FaceTime.

"They are obsessed with making videos of what they are doing."

Many post videos of what they have done to sites such as YouTube and sign on with the same alias used to hack a site, run a phishing attack or write a web exploit.

Some make it easy for computer security experts to track them down when they share photos or other details of their life on other sites.

Boyd shut down one wanna-be hacker named YoGangsta50 and made the teenager promise to never get involved in petty hi-tech crime again.

Reformed teenage hacker Mathew Bevan said it was no surprise that young people were indulging in online crime.

"It's about the thrill and power to prove they are somebody," he said. That also explains why they stuck with an alias or online identity even though it was compromised, he added.

He said what most of them do it to get fame within their peer group. "They spend months or years developing who they are and their status. They do not want to give that up freely."

Teenagers needed to appreciate the risks they take by falling into hi-tech crime, said Graham Robb, a board member of the Youth Justice Board.

"If they get a criminal record it stays with them," he said. "A Criminal Record Bureau check will throw that up and it could prevent access to jobs."

He also said young people needed to appreciate the impact of actions carried out via the net and a computer.

"Are they going to be able to live with the fact that they caused harm to other people?" he said. "They do not think there is someone losing their money or their savings from what they are doing.


On The Net: