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Why do young people decide to become hackers? - Breakthrough
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Why do young people decide to become hackers?

A new study from Michigan State University has shed light on the characteristics and gender-specific behaviours of juveniles that lead them towards hacking.

As technology continues to advance at a rapid pace, the problem of cybercrime remains a significant concern. A new study from Michigan State University has shed light on the characteristics and gender-specific behaviours of juveniles that may lead them towards hacking. The research, which analysed responses from 50,000 teenagers from around the world, has uncovered some surprising findings that highlight the gendered differences in the pathways to hacking.

Gendered pathways to hacking

Lead author and MSU cybercrime expert in the School of Criminal Justice, Thomas Holt, notes that hacking behaviour usually starts in the early teens, but the background factors that lead to it were not clear until now. The study found that while predictors of juvenile delinquency, such as low self-control, are significant factors for computer hacking for both boys and girls, there were distinct differences between the genders. Girls were more likely to be influenced by peer associations, particularly if their friends engaged in petty crime. In contrast, boys were more likely to spend time playing computer games or watching TV, which were linked to hacking.

Opportunities for hacking

The study also found that simply having opportunities to hack was significant in starting such behaviour. This could include having their own bedroom, their own computer or the freedom of doing what they want on the internet without parental supervision. Interestingly, kids who had mobile phone access early on were more likely to hack, especially if they lived in larger cities. Spending time with peers was more likely to influence delinquent behaviour for those living in smaller cities. The researchers also found a connection between pirating movies and music and hacking.

Risks and prevention

It is important for parents to understand their kids’ tech-savviness and habits to help guide them on a path that uses their skills in a more positive way. Parents should not assume that having a kid with sophisticated technological competency is always totally fine. Instead, they should find others in the field – like those they would meet in a robotics club or attending something like the DefCon conference – to help their kids learn about using their skills in a positive way and for staving off bad behaviours. Talking is vital, as cybercrime can be a hidden problem. The more parents can understand what their kids are doing, the easier it is to flag something that might be off and curtail activity. Using antiviruses for all your devices can also help prevent any possible attacks.

Conclusion

In conclusion, this study sheds light on the pathways to juvenile hacking and the gendered differences in the background factors that lead to it. While the findings are surprising, they highlight the need for parents to understand their kids’ tech-savviness and habits and to guide them on a path that uses their skills in a more positive way. Ultimately, the more parents can understand what their kids are doing and the easier it is to flag something that might be off and curtail activity, the more we can prevent juvenile hacking from becoming a significant problem in the future.

Vey Law

Vey Law is a reporter at Breakthrough.

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