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One in 10 children under 17 believe they could successfully hack into a website or someone else’s online account, and 13% would attempt to do so if dared to, according to research into young consumers' and parents' attitudes to cyber security, conducted by Kaspersky.
The study also found that less than 10% of parents were at all concerned that their children might be involved in digital criminality, and warned that an increasing number of children may be exposed to malicious actors and risked being manipulated into illegal activity – especially during the upcoming summer break.
Only 44% of parents who participated in Kaspersky’s study said they had implemented any form of age restrictions on their offspring’s devices, and only 32% were aware of whom their children were interacting with online.
The study also highlighted a misconception among both youngsters and grown-ups that hacking is, to some extent, a victimless crime. For example, 60% of children said they would feel guilty if they pilfered money from their parents’ wallets, but only 29% were worried about using a purloined credit card online without permission.
David Emm, principal security researcher at Kaspersky’s Global Research and Analysis Team said: “Hacking an online account may lack a physical touchpoint, but the consequences can be severe, for example disrupting business operations, governments, or vital public services such as hospitals.
“On top of this, this behaviour can unknowingly expose children to age-restricted content or illegal goods, such as firearms and drugs, without them ever having to leave their bedroom.”
One young hacker who participated in the study, whose identity obviously cannot be revealed, said they were just 12 when a friend they had met online introduced them to a phone hacking program they were playing with.
“To hack all you need is access to a half-decent device and a connection to the internet. I was given my computer for schoolwork, but mainly I just use it for hacking,” they said.
“At first, I started to search YouTube for ‘how to create viruses’ and while on there I realised how easy it was to find all sorts of tutorials for hacking websites, or creating viruses. My friends thought I was amazing. I loved the feeling of that, so I carried on breaking into the school records and sharing them online. It was just a bit of fun.”
“Those little bits of mischief or trespassing can be entertaining, especially when their peers are doing it too,” she said. “Also, the need for social acceptance becomes really strong, especially in early teens, and many will just go along with the crowd especially if their friends are doing it.
“One of the strongest protective factors against hacking is when kids know what’s expected of them, that their actions have consequences, and they know what those consequences are,” said Dunlap.
She continued: “It’s important to have an honest relationship with children and provide information to help keep themselves safe. However, parents should approach the situation with curiosity and openness, rather than making assumptions or passing judgment.
“How we talk about these challenging topics is extremely important, even more than the specific words themselves. Anger or accusation will almost always result in the child shutting down, becoming defensive, or driving them towards the thing their caregivers are trying to protect them from.”
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