Hackers often start young
Hackers often start young

The list was published in the Liverpool Echo, outlining a number of telltale signs for parents, that their children may be prodigiously talented in IT.

Vince Warrington, director of Protective Intelligence and a cyber-security veteran authored the list; It is the product of his involvement in a programme called Hackers for Heroes, a project run by YouthFed, which aims to teach young people proper internet safety.

Some have taken the list to be meant as a series of warning signs that might alert parents to their child's burgeoning career in cyber-crime.  Warrington was clear about its purpose. He told SC Media UK, “It's not about parents turning their kids into the Police, it's about getting them to understand that their kid has talent and can have a great career in cyber or IT.”

Warrington got involved with the project, “because I can see that there are kids who have talent but don't get the opportunities in IT and cyber – especially those from less privileged backgrounds and those with Autism or Asperger's.”

The list which Warrington originally gave outlines a number of points which might mark a nascent interest in IT.

  • They spend most of their free time using their computer
  • They might have few 'real' friends, but talk extensively to online friends about computers - this is where they can learn news skills from others that they can't find at school
  • Teachers may say they have a keen interest in computers, almost to the exclusion of other subjects
  • They might use words associated with computers, gaming and/or hacking
  • They may refer to themselves as 'hackers' or the like (don't worry! It doesn't mean they are, it's just that they're identifying themselves with computer culture)
  • As with most kids, they want to maintain their privacy so they might be using multiple social media accounts or email addresses
  • Circumstantial evidence suggests that Neuro Diverse children (with Autism or Asperger's) may be particularly attracted to computing 
There are a couple of signs they might be getting into hacking;
  • If you've installed internet monitoring tools, these may stop working
  • They might claim to be making money from online computer games. Many get started by 'breaking' games to discover 'cheats', which they can then sell to friends or online
  • They can connect to the Wi-Fi of nearby houses (especially if they have no legitimate reason to be able to)
Warrington told SC that it's important kids are steered in the right direction at a critical point in their interest: “I don't want to see any more young people up in front of a judge just because their curiosity took them too far.”

The natural curiosity of teenagers can sometimes turn into a private life of crime. In late 2015, The UK's National Crime Agency said that the average age of a cyber-crime suspect arrested in the UK could be as low as 17. Many famous hackers also started young. In 2000, a 15 year old known as Mafiaboy successfully DDoSed and shut down the websites of Dell, CNN, Amazon and eBay.

Warrington added, “By working in partnership with schools, parents, youth associations and others we can encourage these kids to have a great career in cyber-security, rather than demonising them. Local cyber-security SMEs can play their part by taking talented youngsters on and tutoring and guiding them into the cyber-security professionals of tomorrow.”