Youthful high jinks are taking a more sinister turn as teen hackers use their PCs to challenge authority. Colin Beveridge is worried they will never grow out of such behaviour.
Barely a week goes by without a news report of teenagers’ misadventures with home computers.
If it isn’t about the dangers of loathsome lurkers preying on chatrooms, or youngsters facing prosecution for ripping off the music industry, then it’s youngsters launching industrial-strength denial-of-service attacks and blaming it all on some big boys from down the road.
At least the excuses are the same as in the old days, even if the mischief has moved on somewhat.
Forty years ago, the worst we could probably expect from unruly youth was the odd smashed window every now and again - accidentally broken by a misdirected football, or maliciously motivated brick.
But the PC generation of today has no qualms at all at the prospect of having a crack about using their computers to effect their cyber-pranks – which appear to grow both in scope and ingenuity with alarming facility.
It is far too easy for us to dismiss these regularly reported events simply as high jinks or youthful indiscretions.
“Boys will be boys” was a well-worn phrase in pre-PC days. But the real problem now is that, unlike the boyish scrapes of yesteryear, which caused a little local nuisance, today’s cyber-pranks threaten the safety and well-being of society.
Sooner or later, if it hasn’t happened already, somebody somewhere is going to get seriously hurt, either physically or financially, because some bored teenager used a home computer to get up to some mischief.
Of course, the high-profile cases which make the media headlines are just the tip of the iceberg – what about the ones that don’t get caught?
Our fabled friend, the Law of Averages, counsels that there are probably thousand upon thousands of potential time-bombs ticking away out there, each capable of inflicting real pain on an apparently unwitting cyberworld.
Let’s just hope that our corporate infrastructure managers step up to the mark and keep our system boundaries well protected and patrolled, because I don’t think the threat is going to go away
Just like smoking behind the bike sheds, hacking and computer misuse are becoming regarded, in some quarters at least, as a badge of maturity.
Which leads me on to my real concern. Is all of this stuff just another aspect of growing up in the high-tech 21st century, or symptomatic of a longer-term lifestyle attitude problem that will stay with the perpetrators far beyond adolescence?
Quite bluntly, will they ever grow out of the temptation to get up to no good with their computers?
We better hope so. Because if they continue this behaviour into adulthood, as I suspect they will, then pretty soon we will find our computer security under threat as each new crop of hackers and crackers join the workforce.
And what better place is there for them to hide themselves than in the IT department, where everybody seems to spend all day, every day, superglued to keyboard and screen?
What do you think?
Do teenage hackers grow up into cyber-terrorists? Tell us in an e-mail >> ComputerWeekly.com reserves the right to edit and publish answers on the website. Please state if your answer is not for publication.
Colin Beveridge is an independent consultant and leading commentator on technology management issues. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
This was first published in October 2003