Are You Accidentally Encouraging Your Teenager to Hack?
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The New Year has arrived, and the Christmas hubris is fading. Children have returned to their respective corners clutching shiny new technologically advanced toys and gadgets. What did you get your kids? Did they ask for a new laptop? Or did they ask for something unexpected, like a new router and a length of Ethernet cable? The clues to your children’s technology use could lie in the extras they want you to purchase.

teen hacker using multiple computers
Image Credit: Andrey Popov via Shutterstock

Of course, when I say child, I do mean teenagers and upwards Is Your Child a Hacker? The British Authorities Think So Is Your Child a Hacker? The British Authorities Think So The NCA, Britain's FBI, has launched a campaign to deter young people from computer crime. But their advice is so broad that you could assume anyone reading this article is a hacker - even you. Read More . Sure, kids are more technologically proficient than ever, but I would hope my four-year-old and six-year-old aren’t out-pacing me (at least not yet).

Are teenage hackers a problem? Are you accidentally encouraging their hacking by purchasing the hardware they need? Let’s take a look.

Easy Access to Hacking Tools

In November 2013 Jared Abrahams admitted to hacking webcams How Easy Is It For Someone To Hack Your Webcam? How Easy Is It For Someone To Hack Your Webcam? Read More . Jared was 19 years old at the time. The webcam he was charged with hacking hardware belonging to Cassidy Wolf, winner of the 2013 Miss Teen USA beauty pageant. Abrahams gained access to Wolf’s computer via an installation of the Blackshades malware Top 5 Ways You Are Spied On Every Day And Don't Know It Top 5 Ways You Are Spied On Every Day And Don't Know It The chances are you're oblivious to the ways in which you're being monitored almost daily as you go about your business. Learn how to take precautions to protect yourself against these surveillance threats. Read More , and used that to download a series of allegedly nude images Hack Attack: How To Keep Your Webcam Secure From Online Peeping Toms Hack Attack: How To Keep Your Webcam Secure From Online Peeping Toms What would you do if someone had control of your webcam without your knowledge? Fortunately, there are ways to keep yourself clean from these online peeping Toms. Read More .

In November 2013, 19-year-old Jared Abrahams admitted to hacking the computer of Cassidy Wolf. Wolf, also 19 at the time, was the winner of the 2013 Miss Teen USA beauty pageant. Abraham used the notorious Blackshade malware to access Wolf’s webcam, taking a series of images he would later attempt to blackmail her with. Wolf reported the incident to the FBI, and Abraham later handed himself into the authorities.

fbi blackshades global takedown

The ubiquitous nature of exceedingly cheap malware means teenage hackers have numerous entry points into the world of hacking. I was going to finish the previous sentence with “even if they don’t fully understand what they’re doing,” but that is unfair. If they have the technical nous to track down and pay for advanced malware such as Blackshade, perhaps the only misunderstanding is the danger of deploying such a tool in the first place. I digress.

However, Abrahams’ case is not unprecedented.

Blackshades Arrests

Wolf’s potential exploitation didn’t go unnoticed. The high-profile nature of the victim attracted the attention of several major law enforcement agencies. In 2014, Europol and the U.K.’s National Crime Agency (NCA) identified thousands of individuals that had purchased Blackshade, leading to 97 arrests, of which 17 were from the U.K.

However, the majority of these hackers were tracked down and arrested because they paid for Blackshades with a credit or debit card, or via PayPal. Consequently, we can cast serious aspersions toward the OpSec of these “hackers.” Furthermore, this marks one of the first instances of users being arrested for simply purchasing a hacking tool, let alone actually deploying it.

Teenage Hackers at Home

Blackshades Remote Access Tool (RAT) could be bought for less than $100 in 2013. It is even cheaper now, while more advanced variants now exist. As Troy Gill said:

Blackshades has been circulating for years now. It is a remote access Trojan that gives the attacker a great deal of control over the victim’s machine. In addition, Blackshades behaves like a “worm” in that it contains self-propagation mechanisms to facilitate its spreading to other machines.

Its low price certainly makes it an attractive option for low level cybercriminals or any cybercriminal that simply wants one extra weapon in their arsenal.

Most teenagers are content with hacking restrictive parental controls to allow themselves the freedom Check Out The New Windows 10 Parental Control Options Check Out The New Windows 10 Parental Control Options Windows 10 parental control reports offer details of your child's online behaviour and activity. Some parents are horrified, whilst others welcome it. Let's look at how to use these settings to secure your computer. Read More of the internet. Outmaneuvring parents has been an integral part of growing up 7 Ways Your Children Might Bypass Parental Control Software 7 Ways Your Children Might Bypass Parental Control Software Just because you've installed a safety net in parental control software doesn't mean your children won't find a way to navigate through it. Here's how they'll do it! Read More , long before there were computers. However, some take it further.

I’m not in a position to curate a comprehensive “signs your child is hacking” list. Conversely, InfoWorld columnist Roger A. Grimes has written an entire book on the topic. Grimes’ top 11 signs are as follows:

  1. They flat out tell you, or brag about how easy it is to hack.
  2. They seem to know a little too much about you.
  3. Their technical secrecy is extreme.
  4. They have multiple accounts you cannot access.
  5. You find actual hacking tools on their computer.
  6. They frequently use hacking terms, or you overhear them using hacking terms.
  7. Your ISP tells you to stop hacking.
  8. Their friends, online or off, are investigated.
  9. They constantly switch to a fake screen when you enter the room.
  10. Your monitoring tools never show any actual activity.
  11. Failing grades miraculously improve despite no change in work ethic.

Not Entirely Comprehensive

Grimes notes that any combination of the above doesn’t necessarily confirm a teen hacker.

Given the tumultuous nature of the teenage years, behavior like that outlined above may not mean your child is a malicious hacker. The desire for extreme privacy, curiosity, the desire to fit in — many of the above behaviors could very well be considered normal for teens. I’m sure many of you have encountered one or more of the above behaviors and your kids have not been involved in illegal or unethical hacking.

Examples like Abrahams are somewhat rare, but not unheard of. The simple fact of the matter is that hacking tutorials, forums, and examples are extremely easy to find Can You Make A Living Out Of Ethical Hacking? Can You Make A Living Out Of Ethical Hacking? Being labeled a “hacker” usually comes with plenty of negative connotations. If you call yourself a hacker, people will often perceive you as someone who causes mischief just for giggles. But there is a difference... Read More . Furthermore, we’ve seen an example of just how cheaply advanced malware can be purchased. Parenting children isn’t easy. Parenting extremely inquisitive teenagers desperate to push boundaries is even less so.

The internet is a focal point for education, business, work, and much more. Encouraging privacy and security is a responsible 5 Tools to Learn About and Protect Your Privacy 5 Tools to Learn About and Protect Your Privacy Ensuring online privacy isn't only for the paranoid. Understanding how online tracking works helps you make decisions, which is important. Here are the privacy tools that help. Read More and absolutely necessary task.

Curb Your Enthusiasm

The world of black hat hacking is alluring, glamorized and dramatized by high profile cases and individuals 10 of the World’s Most Famous Hackers & What Happened to Them 10 of the World’s Most Famous Hackers & What Happened to Them Not all hackers are bad. The good guys -- "white-hat hackers" -- use hacking to improve computer security. Meanwhile "black-hat hackers" are the ones who cause all the trouble, just like these guys. Read More . However, the short list outlined above might hold a few indicators you’ve overlooked.

There are a couple of other things to consider before becoming worried. First, not all hacking is immediately illegal or unethical. Establishing exactly what is taking place may be difficult, but would be a worthwhile activity. It will help differentiate between an issue that needs an immediate resolution, and something that could be encouraged.

Have you bought more hardware for your teenager? Do you suspect something is afoot? Or are you encouraging and guiding their hacking education? Let us know your take on hacking in the comments below!

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