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‘Sense of accomplishment’ drives youngsters to cybercrime

A sense of accomplishment, completing a challenge and proving oneself to peers are some of the key motivations behind youngsters turning to cybercrime.

That’s according to a report published today by the National Crime Agency, called Pathways Into Cyber Crime.

The organisation suggested that current understanding of the motivations for getting into cyber crime is limited, so has started a long-term project in a bid to gain a better understanding behind the motives. 

The report includes information from debriefs with eight individuals involved in cyber criminality, as well as data gleaned from more than 80 ‘cease and desist visits’ to individuals who have been identified as being involved on the fringes of cybercrime. These visits are intended to warn the identified individuals to desist from their activities.

The NCA acknowledged that its findings had major limitations – partly because of the small number of participants, but also because it was not possible to corroborate the qualitative aspects of the responses.

Through its research, it found that financial gain wasn’t necessarily a priority for offenders, although it should not be discounted, particularly with the rise of off-the-shelf hacking tools that can provide an easy entry-point to cyber crime. 

The key motivations of completing a challenge, a sense of accomplishment and proving oneself to peers were repeated throughout the debriefs as the main reason young people begin and continue hacking, the NCA claimed.

The report highlighted one 18 year old who was arrested for obtaining unauthorised access to a US government site.

The youth told The Times back in 2015: “I did it to impress the people in the hacking community, to show them I had the skills to pull it off… I wanted to prove myself…. that was my main motivation”.

According to the NCA, cyber crime is not solitary or anti-social because social relationships are still key, even if they are online. 

“Forum interaction and building of reputation scores drives young cyber criminals. The hacking community (based largely around forums) is highly social,” it said.

“Whether it is idolising a senior forum member or gaining respect and reputation from other users for sharing knowledge gained, offenders thrive on their online relationships,” it added.

The debriefs highlighted the sense of value that some offenders felt by demonstrating their technical prowess for the group, the NCA suggested. This, in turn, helped to fuel their drive and desire to learn and accomplish more.

For example, an offender who sold distributed denial of service (DDoS) tools and botnet services, who was also a member of a hacking collective, said that his reputation score grew as a member of Hackforums.net every time he shared knowledge with other members.

“…the more my reputation increased, the more I felt I could interact with the smarter members,” the offender said. 

The NCA said that positive role models, mentors and opportunities were key to deterring young people away from cybercrime.

“Debrief subjects lacked a positive role model who could steer them towards a positive pathway,” it said.

Computing Cybersecurity Strategy Briefing for the Financial Sector logo

Join Computing in London on 4 May for the Cyber Security Strategy Briefing 2017 for the Financial Sector. 

Speakers include Adam Koleda, IT director of insurance firm BPL Global; Peter Agathangelou, associate director of Hamilton Fraser Insurance; and, Dr Kuan Hon, consultant lawyer at law firm Pinsent Masons

Attendance is free to qualifying IT professionals and IT leaders – register now!

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