One in four schoolkids have tried hacking

18 Mar 2010

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One in four schoolchildren have tried their hands at hacking into one another’s Facebook accounts by surreptitiously using the victim’s password. Nearly half of the hackers are girls, exploding the gender myth.

The study of 1,000 youngsters from London and 150 from Cumbria found that although 27pc were doing so from the relatively safe confines of their bedrooms, these juvenile offenders are utilising computers in internet cafés (22pc), the ICT suite at school (21pc), and a friend’s machine (19pc).

The most common reason was for fun (46pc), however, 21pc aimed to cause disruption and a resourceful 20pc thought they could generate an income from the activity.

A small minority (5pc) were switching to the dark side as a career move.

Schoolchildren victims of hacking

It’s not all one-sided though, as the kids revealed they’d also been a victim, with more than a third having had either their Facebook or email account hacked.

Conducted by IT security experts Tufin Technologies in conjunction with Cumbria Constabulary, the survey revealed that the Cumbrian children with hacking habits were much younger than their city counterparts, with 78pc having done so before their 13th birthday – in London, 44pc were under 16 with only 16pc of these yet to enter their teens.

When the survey dug a little deeper, it unearthed that of the children who had hacked, more than a quarter had targeted Facebook accounts, 18pc went for a friend’s email account, 7pc for online shopping sites, a cheeky 6pc besieged their parents’ emails, and 5pc breached the school website.

A bold 3pc had honed their skills enough to aim much higher with corporate websites under their belts.

It’s not all doom and gloom – there is some comfort to be drawn from the 27pc of our apprentice criminals that were caught. Some 82pc of the sample confessed hacking wasn’t actually that easy in practice and a commendable 70pc labelled the practice as "uncool".

Emphasis on protecting passwords

Cumbria Constabulary’s deputy chief constable Stuart Hyde ACPO lead on E-Crime Prevention and president of the Society for the Policing of Cyberspace (POLCYB), said: “What this survey starkly highlights is that hacking into personal online accounts, whether email or Facebook, can be child’s play if users do not protect their own passwords.

“It illustrates the importance of keeping your passwords strong, secure and changing them regularly to help protect your accounts from unscrupulous people of all ages.

“We live in a world where social networking, email and the internet are embedded into our every day lives from a far younger age, so early education is essential to ensure young people know the devastating consequences this activity can have.

“Only 53pc of the children surveyed felt that hacking (ie, using someone else’s account) was illegal, which shows there is a real need to educate youngsters to the dangers both so they are deterred from trying it and also so they know how to protect their own accounts. Hacking is illegal and we need to ensure everyone understands that,” Hyde said.

Picking up from this point, Reuven Harrison, CTO and co-founder of Tufin Technologies, said one of the most worrying statistics from this survey is the staggering numbers of kids that are successful and the ages involved.

“Hacking has changed a lot in the past few years from the curiosity or fun factor to now making serious money or causing havoc in the corporate environment. Our job as IT security professionals is to stop hackers in their tracks and that means educating the kids, as the police have said, at a very young age.”

By John Kennedy

Photo: Some 46pc of schoolkids said they hacked into friends’ Facebook accounts for fun, a survey conducted by Tufin Technologies in conjunction with Cumbria Constabulary suggests

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Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com