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The National Crime Agency (NCA) and Immersive Labs have launched an interactive platform to enable 13 to 18-year-olds to develop and test new cyber security skills in a contained, safe and legal environment.
The Cyber4Summer platform contains 100 different labs covering a wide range of themes and skill areas in security, from the basics of how to stay safe online, through encoding and encryption, and even ethical hacking and defensive red and blue teaming skills.
It forms part of the NCA’s #CyberChoices programme, which is designed to prevent young people from inadvertently getting involved in cyber criminal activity, and will be offered for free through to the end of September 2020.
“As well as disrupting the current generation of cyber criminals, it’s important that we do all we can to ensure young people don’t unintentionally drift into illegal activity,” said NCA National Cyber Crime Unit director Jim Stokley.
“With the summer holidays approaching, teenagers are about to have even more time on their hands, and will no doubt spend much of that time online. I’m really pleased that we’ve partnered with Immersive Labs to bring them Cyber4Summer, which offers a whole host of labs enabling them to test and build cyber skills safely.”
“Teenagers often make decisions to boost their street cred or buy a quick thrill – and hackers are no different. But the consequences of their decisions can reach far into the future, so getting them on the right track early is crucial,” said James Hadley, CEO at Bristol-based Immersive Labs.
“By making cyber security learning more rewarding than illegitimate activity, we will enhance the career prospects of emerging talent while keeping them on the right side of the law.”
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The NCA’s latest initiative is just one of a number of cyber security programmes being pitched at stuck-at-home teenagers during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic; it also runs the CyberLand security training scheme alongside Cyber Security Challenge UK, while the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) runs the CyberFirst training programme, which is being offered as an online-only course for the first time this year thanks to the pandemic.
The NCA makes reaching out to young people a priority as it has previously assessed that about 61% of hackers begin hacking before the age of 16. In 2015, the average age of suspects and arrests in cyber crime investigations was 17, compared to 37 in the case of drugs cases, it claimed.
In addition, the barriers to entry into cyber criminality are considered to be very low, with off-the-shelf hacking tools widely available for not very much money, and hacking games, forums and communities easy to access.
One subject interviewed for the NCA’s 2017 report said he had begun hacking after learning about cheat codes for video games online. He was suspended from school at 13 for giving himself admin rights on his school’s computers, but largely went unchallenged in part because his mother was happy he wasn’t out on the streets after dark.
The organisation said that the online world offered an environment where young people felt emboldened by the perception of anonymity and a lack of visible policing to continue to offend unchecked, and that thanks to their young age, it was easy to cross from legal to illegal online behaviour without necessarily considering or understanding the nature of cyber crime, or its consequences.