Child delinquency is nothing new and neither is teen and pre-teen computer hacking. However, both of these are usually rather minor when compared to the crimes adults perpetrate, or at least you think this would be the case.
Typical juvenile delinquent crimes like robbing a candy store or beating up a peer takes a second seat towards derailing trains in Poland and injuring 12, stealing over 16,000 taxpayer’s information (including social security numbers), shutting down various government-run websites, or costing cities $250,000 thanks to intense and severe prank phone calls called “swatting”.
It seems that this is becoming a greater problem by the week. More and more children are joining the ranks of hacker groups and committing some of the most nefarious online crimes imaginable. So what is exactly causing all of this?
Chris Boyd is a director of malware research at FaceTime Communications: “These are kids that are nine, ten, 12 years old. They're part of a generation that doesn't remember when there wasn't an Internet, or easy access to it. They grow up with it. They start off playing games, and then they move on to [communities] where they're encouraged to take their hacking to a higher level.”
However, the majority of child hackers really aren’t hackers at all, but rather wannabes who boast about fake successes or failed hacks. The majority of these are “script kiddies” who simply use pre-existing hacks to carryout minor security breaches or copy insignificant files.
"They want to be famous," Boyd says. "Not just known among their peers for their technical knowledge, but 'American Idol' famous." It is a scary thought that if kids are able to do these things at such a young age, just what may they be capable of later on in life with such a strong desire for fame.
"Some of these kids are really quite proficient. I know of one 13-year-old who has 35 phishing kits on his site. He uses professional tools and gets good results. It's really quite frightening, the skills they've got."
What are the authorities doing about this growing epidemic? "Most [law enforcement agencies] are already strained, trying to do something to stop the financially motivated attacks, which are seen as more dangerous," Boyd says. "They only have the resources to focus on the biggest stuff. And when you're dealing with kids, they're too young to be prosecuted anyway. Some of the forums [targeted toward child hackers] have been up for three, four, even five years, and no one has shut them down."
As Helen Lovejoy of the Simpsons would say: "Won't somebody think of the children!?"