The NCA says role models and opportunities to use skills positively can steer young people away from cyber crime / Rex

Free hacking tools and video tutorials are making it increasingly easy for young people to become involved in illegal activities

“Very little skill” is required to become a cyber criminal, according to a new report.

Research from the National Crime Agency (NCA) claims that free “off-the-shelf” hacking tools, online tutorials and video guides are making it increasingly easy for young people become involved in cyber crime.

The report also says that, while financial gain is a key incentive for some offenders, it isn’t always key, with many instead motivated by a “sense of accomplishment” and building a reputation. 

The average age of the young offenders involved in the study was 17, and the NCA says they’re “unlikely” to commit more traditional crimes, such as theft, fraud and sexual offences.

“Very little skill is needed to begin criminal activity online,” reads the NCA study. “With tools such as booters and Remote Access Trojan (RAT) users can make a small payment (or often no payment) and begin breaking the law.” 

It adds that a large proportion of young people drawn into cyber crime tend to join criminal hacking forums after first participating in gaming cheat websites and ‘modding’ forums. 

“The hacking community (based largely around forums) is highly social,” says the NCA. “Whether it is idolising a senior forum member or gaining respect and reputation from other users for sharing knowledge gained, offenders thrive on their online relationships.”

Offenders can feel a “sense of value” by showing their capabilities off to the wider group, and often don’t even consider law enforcement and the potential repercussions of their actions, because they regard cyber crime as “low risk”. 

“Illegal activities are discussed openly on many open forums,” says the report. 

“The law and its consequences are rarely discussed and if the topic is raised it is generally dismissed. Debrief subjects have stated that they did not consider law enforcement until someone they knew (or had heard of) was arrested.”

The NCA believes that role models, mentors and opportunities to use these skills positively can steer young people away from cyber crime.  

“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, the 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. 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.”

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