Why young hackers turn to crime (it's not for money)

Teenagers are motivated by pride and morals, NCA finds

Cyber crime

Cyber criminals average just 17 years old and they're motivated by much more than money.

That's according to a report from the National Crime Agency (NCA), which interviewed online offenders and "those on the fringes of criminality" in order to find what motivated them and why those unlikely to commit traditional crime turn to hacking.

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The research suggested their real motivation isn't financial gain, but the act of overcoming the challenge and proving themselves to their online peers.  The NCA cited one hacker, jailed under the Computer Misuse Act and for fraud offences, as saying: "It made me popular, I enjoyed the feeling I looked up to those users with the best reputations."

Paul Hoare, senior manager at the NCA's cyber crime unit, said some saw it as a "moral crusade". Jake Davis, who served time for his activities as part of LulzSec, told the Guardian that his own activity was politically motivated. "I was motivated as a teenager by the idea that this internet was this utopian space that shouldn't be controlled or filtered or segmented or chopped up into little blocks and distributed out, and that it should be open and free, and anyone in the world should be able to use it."

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The NCA noted that many eventual hackers got their start on gaming cheat websites and modding forums, helped by the availability of DDoS-for-hire services and step-by-step tutorials on how to use existing malicious tools. The average age for suspects in cybercrime cases is 17, well below the that for drugs, at 37, or economic crime, at 39.

The lower age and self-taught skills mean the NCA wants to encourage would-be hackers to find a better road.

"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," said Richard Jones, Head of the National Cyber Crime Unit's Prevent team. "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."

And intervention could be easy. While Jones suggested it would be useful to highlight "opportunities in coding and programming" in legal industries that will offer that "sense of accomplishment and respect" that they're seeking, the NCA it also cited one young hacker as saying a "simple warning from law enforcement would have made him stop his activities". A warning and a job offer could work wonders, then.

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