Computer hacking has long been considered a young person’s game. Since the first hackers really got started in the early 1980’s, the vision most people have in their head is a guy in his parent’s dingy basement, wearing some type of Marvel Super Hero tee shirt, surrounded by monitors and video game systems.
There is no doubt that this particular stereotype exists for a reason. On numerous occasions, attacks have been conducted by basement those dwellers. Movies like “War Games” and “Hackers” perpetuated the teen hacker mantra, possibly even inspiring the next-generation of cyber attackers as computers and the internet began to hit its stride for personal and corporate use throughout the world. With so many different avenues to take now between social media, smart phones and susceptible corporations, teenage cyber criminals are thriving.
The latest teen hackers to make headlines came about from the TalkTalk data breach. An attack that exposed critical customer information of 4.2 million customers and caused a sharp drop in TalkTalk share prices. At this point authorities have multiple suspects in their crosshairs including teens of 15 and 16 years old. How can a few kids, have the ability to beat the cyber defense structure of a large, public company?
In even more disturbing news, a teen hacker gained access to the email account of CIA Director John Brennan, using his bank card to access his private AOL emails.
On a smaller scale multiple school systems have been affected by cyber-attacks in Wichita, KS and Salt Lake City, UT within the past week or so. A sneaking suspicion tells me this also was the work of someone in their teen years.
If these kids want to hack, let them. Teens are stubborn and let’s face it if they want to do something, they will do it one way or another. What they need are positive options to use their newly developed skills. Groups like Anonymous and Lizard Squad make hacking sounds appealing to young people for many reasons, a lot of these reasons are based on the thought that they are hacking for justice. These groups loosely offer up justification for attacking governments, corporations, and even individuals, that have shown behaviors these hacker communities deem unacceptable in today’s society, while the idea of being caught and going to prison alludes them entirely.
Proper outlets are being created however, as universities around the globe are offering new degrees and courses in cyber/information security. In these programs young people can learn the best practices for protecting organizations instead of attacking them. The good news about these studies is that most programs offer real world, hands on experience that can lead to a true career. A career that for the most part, pays pretty well and offers job security because let’s face it, the attackers, no matter what age, are not going away any time soon, and everyone is seeking highly skilled guardians. The question is however, once they learn this advanced skill set, which path will be taken?