How and why do teenagers become cybercriminals?

The search to find the mastermind of the Lapsus$ attacking group has led to a house outside Oxford, England. The alleged leader was a 16-year-old boy. He helped bring down some of the biggest companies in the world, including Microsoft, from his mother’s house. The BBC reported that the teenager allegedly earned $14 million from his attacks. The search for other members of the group led to the arrests of six other teenagers.

The Lapsus$ group is just the latest example of teenage cybercriminals. In 2021, Canadian police arrested a teenager for stealing around $36.5 million in cryptocurrency using a SIM card swapping attack. Another teenager, Ellis Pinsky, started stealing crypto when he was 15 and broke the $100 million mark when he was 18.

Why and How Teenagers Become Abusers

Reducing teenage cybercrime starts with knowing their motivations and backgrounds. Of course, each person has their own reasons for their actions. Many teenagers start hacking because the challenge and fun appeal to them. Other teens turn to cybercrime because of their beliefs about a specific problem. Money is also a common reason, as in the case of Lapsus$.

Many teenagers fall into cybercrime by mistake as they cross the line between ethical and unethical activities. In Darknet Diaries Episode 112, a teenager who identifies as Drew shares his journey. Drew started by running a discount server for a video game that led to the sale of stolen usernames.

While some teens are getting started with video games and hacking, new tools have created new avenues into cybercrime for teens. Crypto quickly emerges as a gateway, with a 13-year-old becoming a multi-millionaire selling NFT art. NFT-related cybercrime is also on the rise, including phishing, fake art, and crypto wallet hacks. BOther NFTs and related cybercrime could increase. It is likely that many teenage cybercriminals will start their journey with NFTs.

4 Ways to Stop Teenagers from Becoming Cybercriminals

Teenagers who become cybercriminals often have a passion and expertise in technology. The key to reducing the number of black hat wearers starts with focusing on using their interest and skills in a positive rather than a negative way. The media often glorifies attackers, which can cause teens to gravitate towards the dark side. And if the industry focus on increasing coverage and accolades for cybersecurity workers? This way, teens can see white hat roles or other professional careers in cyber defense.

Here are more ways to keep teens on the white hat path:

  1. Encourage ethical hacking. SSimulations are the best way for businesses to prepare for a real cyberattack. Therefore, they need ethical hackers to play the role of the red team. Teens can see how they can get the same thrill from helping prevent cybercrimes instead of committing them. Share with teens how if you walk into Bluescreen’s UK office, you’ll find many former teenage hackers now using their skills to help protect against attackers. Other teens may want to play the role of defenders. After all, the role of a defender requires a lot more skill than an attacker. As a cybersecurity advisor Jay Hira explaineddefenders need to succeed 100% of the time, but attackers only need to succeed 1% of the time.
  2. Introduce digital badges and specializations. For teens who aren’t ready for certifications yet, digital badges are a great way to start. These badges teach skills that can lead to careers. Middle and high schools can encourage students to earn badges such as Cybersecurity Basics and Cybersecurity Compliance and System Administration. Teens who excel in these badges can combine badges to earn specializations, such as the Cybersecurity IT Fundamentals specialization, which can help lead to employment in industry. By starting school early, teens can start on a positive path before being exposed to the possibility of committing cybercrimes.
  3. Raising awareness among adolescents of the consequences of cybercrimes. Many teenagers don’t see cybercrime as a real crime because they don’t see a victim. By including cybercrime education in schools and by showcasing cases where teens have served time in prison, teens learn the consequences of those actions. Education should also focus on what constitutes a cybercrime and related laws. This can help would-be hackers know when they are crossing the line into illegal activity.
  1. Share career paths for cybersecurity. Many teenagers are drawn to the money to be made as cybercriminals. Showing them that there are plenty of well-paying careers in cybersecurity can often lead them to stay on the ethical side. The schools aAnd parents: Tell your kids that many lucrative cybersecurity jobs don’t require college degrees. Show what kind of jobs they can land with certifications. Savvy students can even start earning certifications while in high school to be ready for the next step after graduation. By showing that they can use their skills to earn money legally and have a very lucrative career, teenagers often remain interested in the positive side of cybersecurity. You can also share on white hat or ethical hacking as a career path, where they help organizations test their cybersecurity in a controlled environment.

The cybersecurity industry needs more workers to help reduce the skills shortage and the high number of vacancies. And at the same time, the industry must reduce the number of cybercriminals. Focusing on educating adolescents, especially younger ones, can help achieve both of these goals. By encouraging careers in cybersecurity, the industry can acquire the professionals needed to combat increasingly sophisticated and large-scale attacks.

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