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Young People Go Into Cyber Crime ‘To Boost Online Rep’

Why do some young people become involved in cyber crime?

New research from the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) shows that young cyber criminals are motivated into committing online crime in order to boost their online reputation and ‘prove themselves’ to their peers.

A report from the agency, based on debriefs with cyber offenders and those “on the fringes” of criminality, suggests that financial gain is not a priority for young cyber criminals – rather, they are interested in getting peer respect and a sense of accomplishment.

What’s more, free, easy-to-use hacking tools are readily available and could be helping many young people slip into a life of cyber crime, the research indicates.

The NCA wanted to find out why young people who are assessed as unlikely to commit ‘traditional’ crimes end up getting involved in cyber crime.

During a debrief, an offender known as Subject 7, who was jailed under the Computer Misuse Act and for fraud offences, told officers that it “…made me popular, I enjoyed the feeling…I looked up to those users with the best reputations”.

Some offenders enter into cyber crime by starting off participating in gaming cheat websites and game modification, or ‘modding’, forums before progressing to criminal hacking forums.

The NCA report said that easily-to-pick-up tools like DDoS for hire services and remote access trojans are easily available, coming complete with “step-by-step tutorials at little to no cost to the user”, making the barrier for entry into cyber crime “lower than it has ever been”.

However, the study also suggests that criminals could be persuaded to stop committing crime. Another offender, Subject 1, a member of a hacking group who sold DDoS tools and botnet services, told officers that a warning from law enforcement would have made him stop his activities.

Richard Jones, head of the National Cyber Crime Unit’s Prevent team, said: “Even the most basic forms of cyber crime can have huge impacts and the NCA and police will arrest and prosecute offenders, which can be devastating to their future. That means there is great value in reaching young people before they ever become involved in cyber crime, when their skills can still be a force for good.

“The aim of this assessment has been to understand the pathways offenders take, and identify the most effective intervention points to divert them towards a more positive path.

“That can be as simple as highlighting opportunities in coding and programming, or jobs in the gaming and cyber industries, which still give them the sense of accomplishment and respect they are seeking.”

The report found no socio-demographic bias among offenders, the average age of cyber criminals is significantly younger than other crime types. In 2015, the average age of suspects in NCA cyber crime investigations was 17 years old, compared to 37 in NCA drugs cases and 39 in NCA economic crime cases.

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