Is There an Easy Way to Stop Teens From Getting Into Hacking?

It's a decades-long problem

Computer screens
Generations come and go, but teen hackers endure.
Kevin Ku/Unsplash

In recent months, some of the world’s best-known technology companies — including Samsung and Microsoft — have been hacked by a group known as Lapsus$. That in and of itself isn’t all that strange; hackers have been a part of the tech landscape for decades now. But what might be a little stranger is the age of some of the parties involved.

A BBC News report from late March noted that authorities in the U.K. believed that one of the group’s leaders was all of 16 years of age. And while that might seem strange as well — the idea of a company the size of Microsoft alarmed by someone who isn’t old enough to vote or drink alcohol — it’s also less surreal than it seems. Teens have a long history with hacking — a fact that comes up in strange places, including the lead-up to the 2020 Presidential election.

What makes teens gravitate towards hacking? Writing at Slate, Aaron Mak spoke with cybersecurity expert Marcus Hutchins — who is himself a onetime teen hacker. Hutchins has a convincing explanation for why this has taken place — and why teens continue to embrace the risks of hacking.

“There’s not really much structure if you are interested in computers below a certain age,” Hutchins told Mak — and that can lead teens interested in upping their skills to seek out hacker forums. “[T]hat’s where all the super technical coders and hackers hang out,” he said.

“[T]hey can’t really legally work, so it’s a case of there just really isn’t much you can do at that age,” he added. “There’s coding programs and that kind of stuff, but it’s all very theoretical and not as fun.”

While this is a phenomenon that crosses international lines, Hutchins did observe that the U.K. has historically been more forgiving of teen hackers than the U.S. But the conditions he describes set up a kind of perfect storm, and one without an easy resolution.

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