Are Today’s Teens, Tomorrow’s Cybercriminals?

Kids these days. Up to their usual antics like cutting class, inventing new senior pranks and…hacking into computer systems?

Lately, high school campuses have been the breeding grounds for what seems to be a rash of teenage cyber hacks across the country and internationally.

Granted, the teenage hacking phenomenon is nothing new. Blessed with innate curiosity and a lot of extra time, teenagers have been hacking since the invention of computers, inspiring classic films such as “Hackers” and “WarGames.”

However, with increased accessibility to both other hackers and exploit code via forums, chat sites and social media, coupled with the glorification of global collectives such as Anonymous in the media, at no point has it ever been so easy, so enticing or so prevalent.

Which begs the question, are today’s teenage computer geeks tomorrow’s hackers?

Bombarded by media reports lauding the global influence and glorification of groups like Anonymous and LulzSec, it’s perhaps natural that many teens would want to emulate behavior that appears to generate widespread attention and praise.

Meanwhile, reports of youth hackers who have been hired by major tech firms—such as Sony hacker George Hotz who Facebook hired in 2011—also serve to make hacking seem appealing and, well, legitimate.

But the reality is that hackers who are caught face real and serious legal consequences for their actions that can have a long-lasting, if not permanent, impact on their futures.

One such case is the 15-year-old hacker in Austria, recently arrested for infiltrating 259 companies over a 90-day period—roughly averaging  around three successful Website break-ins per day.

Like any hacker worth his salt, the young man pragmatically scanned for vulnerabilities in Web pages and databases, which he could then exploit with an array of hacking tools widely available on the Internet, and remained under the radar with software that helped him remain anonymous. Following in the footsteps of groups such as Anonymous and LulzSec, the student hacker defaced numerous company Websites, dumped pilfered information online and bragged of his accomplishments on Twitter.

Meanwhile, according to reports, the student found a hacker forum that doled out points to members—much like travel miles or a club card– for every successful attack, and within three months was among the top 50 hackers out of approximately 2,000 registered users on the forum.

He was eventually caught, however, by Austria’s C4 unit when some of his anonymizing software failed, inadvertently revealing his IP address.

And last year, Ryan Cleary, the notorious 19-year-old LulzSec hacker, was charged for launching Distributed Denial of Service attacks against numerous organizations including the Serious Organised Crime Agency, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry and the BPI.

While not all teenage hackers become so high-profile or make international headlines, many are becoming more brazen about their hacking exploits, especially with the proliferation of social media, which allows them to trumpet their feats. But unlike the movies, they often face serious repercussions of suspension, fines and even jail time when they’re caught.

Case in point, almost three dozen Berkeley High School students are currently facing expulsion after hacking into the school’s attendance system earlier this month to manipulate their attendance record that had direct bearing on their grades. The break-in occurred when a handful of students acquired an administrator’s password and subsequently cleared hundreds of tardies and unexcused absences from the permanent records of around 50 students from October through December, in exchange for a fee of $2 to $20.

In what amounted to a typical grade changing scam, the hack enabled students to bypass the school’s newly implemented attendance policy, which required teachers to dock grades if the students had three or more unexcused absences. The school is working with law enforcement to determine if legal action is needed.

And finally, taking a page out of Ferris Bueller’s book recently was a New Hampshire teenager who allegedly hacked into Pelham High School’s computer system in order to change grades. The school is currently investigating the details of the hack, and thus far, the unidentified student’s punishment is remaining confidential.


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About the Author: Shannon Lewis

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