Four years ago, Adam Mudd, a 16-year old British boy, worked on a computer in his bedroom behind prying eyes. He didn't indulge in online gaming or chat forums, but was quietly creating a DDoS software- a potent cyber-crime weapon which if used, can destroy communication servers and gain unauthorised access to a lot of things.
He named it the Titanium Stresser. Over the course of the next couple of years, the software earned him close to £400,000 in bitcoins and cash. Not only did he sell the technology to cyber criminals, but also used it himself, launching as many as 600 DDoS attacks on 181 victims, including his college whose server he crashed several times. Titanium Stresser was also used extensively on 650,000 users by those who bought it from him, including on Xbox Live and Runescape users, culminating to a total of 1.7 million hacking attempts.
Mudd, now 20, is facing jail sentence for the crimes he committed as a teenager. While the sentencing has been adjourned till Tuesday, almost on cue, the National Crime Agency released a report today, highlighting risks associated with teenagers getting involved in cyber-crime.
"It’s important for us to understand why more young people are becoming involved in cyber-crime in order to ensure proper deterrents and alternative opportunities are available for people to enhance their skills and allow them to use positively," said the report. The NCA also laid out what can happen to such youngsters once they are caught indulging in cyber-crime.
Teenagers who get caught may face up to 10 years in prison, a visit and warning from police or NCA officers, see their computers confiscated, get arrested and may get charged with fines. At the same time, criminal records may also impact their career prospects in future.
The reason why teenagers are getting lured to committing cybercrimes is because of the presence of websites and forums which share cheat codes to get around computer games. On these forums, teenagers get to learn new craft like developing trojans, malware and DDoS software. As such, the NCA believes that the skill barrier into cyber-crime is lower than ever and that many of them do not view such activities as crimes.
"The NCCU’s research to date suggests that individuals at risk of becoming involved in illegal online activity may be as young as 12. They are likely to have a deep interest in technology, often first sparked by an enthusiasm for gaming; and are likely to spend a large and increasing proportion of their lives online. In some cases when these individuals have been contacted via a home visit, parents and carers are frequently amazed to discover they have been engaging in illegal activity, because they spend so much time in their bedrooms," says the report.
The NCA also stressed that financial gain is not a major motivator for such teenagers. In fact, those using coding skills to steal "are not necessarily admired within these communities." The major motivations are either to further political ends, fulfilling an interesting challenge or gaining respect within the community.
Even in the case of Adam Mudd, the prosecutor stressed that money was not his motivator. 'This is a young man who lived at home. This is not a lavish lifestyle case.
'This is about status. The money making is almost by the by. It, to some extent, provides a measure of the seriousness of it. The money is an indicator of how much has been carried out,' he said. Adding that Mudd quit college as he was bullied because of his autistic condition, he said that 'it was an unhappy period for Mr Mudd during which he suffered greatly. This is someone seeking friendship and status within the gaming community.'
The NCA aims to draw away teenagers from the world of cyber-crimes by offering legal and attractive alternatives, educating them about the risks of getting caught and helping them channelize their talents to tackling cyber-crime itself. It remains to be seen how successful they will be in eradicating the menace in the future, provided today's hackers are equally skilled at escaping detection in the first place.