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Survey confirms cyber criminal activity by UK teens

UK survey highlights the importance of understanding the online behaviour of young people to prevent them being drawn into cyber crime

More than 10% of 16 to 19-year-olds in the UK say they know someone who has engaged in an illegal cyber activity, a survey has revealed.

The survey was commissioned and published by security firm Kaspersky Lab to mark Safer Internet Day 2016, which aims to promote the safe, responsible and positive use of digital technology for children and young people.

The survey also found that just over one-third of respondents would be impressed if a friend hacked a bank’s website and replaced the homepage with a cartoon, and one in 10 would be impressed if a friend hacked the air traffic control systems of a local airport.

When asked how they would feel if a friend found their way into a celebrity’s online email account and discovered lots of private pictures, 18% said they would be impressed, and 17% would be impressed if a friend managed to obtain all the names and addresses of people who had bought adult films online.

More than a quarter of respondents said they knew how to hide their IP address, 41% said they knew about malware, 44% knew about phishing, 24% knew about distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, 17% knew about ransomware, and 13% knew about crypto-malware.

Recent research by the National Crime Agency (NCA) revealed the average age of a cyber criminal is now just 17, raising concern that youngsters are increasingly becoming involved in cyber crime, many of them unwittingly.

In the light of this finding, public awareness and understanding of the online behaviour of young people is vital, said David Emm, principal security researcher, Kaspersky Lab.

“It’s frighteningly easy for teenagers to find their way into the dark corners of the internet today as they explore and experiment or take their first steps towards making some easy money online by searching for tools and advice,” he said.

Once lured in, youngsters are vulnerable to exploitation by cyber criminals who use them to distribute and create malicious software or help launder funds from cyber crime, said Emm.

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As the first truly digital native generation, rebelling has simply become another aspect of teenagers’ lives that can go digital, said Dimitrios Tsivrikos, consumer and business psychologist at University College London.

“Cyber crimes have become glamourised in society and represent an attack on the ‘system’, allowing individuals to express their teenage angst, in which they struggle to identify their place within society, and to achieve the kind of social validation and attention that many teenagers seek,” he said.

Tsivrikos recommends that parents create an environment for their children where discussions are open and where both parties can agree on what constitutes safe and ethical behaviour online, and to understand the consequences of negative behaviour.

“This can be achieved in part by encouraging youngsters to teach their parents how to do things online, and through that interaction, parents can provide guidance,” he said.

Encourage positive use

Tsivrikos also suggests that parents set youngsters tasks, such as creating family photo albums online, to encourage the positive use of technology.

“This provides an alternative online activity that can be enforced by rewarding this behaviour through positive feedback,” he said.

The survey also revealed misguided loyalty among teenagers. When asked what they would do if a friend was doing things online that could be illegal, more than half said they would tell the friend to stop, but would not tell anyone else.

One-third said they would not get involved, 22% said they would ask about it but not join in, and only 21% said they would report it to the police.

 The NCA recently launched a campaign aimed at preventing young people from becoming involved in cyber crime.

The campaign website provides guidance for parents and teachers on how to recognise signs of cyber criminal involvement and ways of encouraging the positive use of cyber skills.

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