Teenagers caught carrying out hacking and cyber-attacks could soon be attending a rehab camp that aims to divert them away from a life of crime.
The first weekend camp for offenders was held in Bristol this month as part of the National Crime Agency‘s (NCA) work with young computer criminals.
Attendees learned about responsible use of cyber-skills and got advice about careers in computer security. If the trial proves successful, it will be rolled out across the UK.
The people picked to attend the residential weekend were known to police because they had been caught carrying out one or more computer crimes, said Ethan Thomas, an operations officer in the NCA’s Prevent team, which engages with young cyber-offenders.
‘Attacks, attacks, attacks’
Hundreds of fledgling cyber-criminals have been contacted by the NCA as part of its Prevent work. Some received letters warning them that their online activity had been spotted and some were visited at home by officers.
The seven young men attending the weekend camp had gone further than many the NCA is aware of. They had either been arrested, visited by officers because they were spotted using tools or techniques that break UK computer misuse laws or been cautioned by police because of offences committed at school.
They had been caught defacing websites, knocking servers offline and carrying out hack attacks that let them take over restricted networks.
Mr Thomas said the idea for the event grew out of an NCA research project that compared the hacking skills of people on both sides of the law.
“It measured up the profiles of different offenders we had and compared it to those of talented people in the industry,” he said. “What we found was that the only sole difference within the stories was that the industry members, at some point, had an intervention.”
Mr Thomas said these pivotal moments in the career of a young person came from different sources – parents, guardians or teachers – but the guidance given demonstrated how effective such an intervention could be.
“The skills are so transferable with this crime type,” he said. “If you have good cyber-skills there are many, many qualifications you can take.”
He said the people who took part in the weekend would be monitored to see how their experience changed them. The NCA said it was planning to introduce similar weekends across the UK if they proved to be able to set young malicious hackers on the straight and narrow.