Europol have swept up 34 young adults and cautioned over 100 others after an international crackdown on DDoS tool users. Most of them, according to Europol's cyber-crime unit, were under 20.
Those arrested were suspected of using online DDoS services, called booters and stressers, allowing users to target anyone they wanted for a fee. Europol worked with law enforcement from various countries across the globe.
The crackdown happened over a week, from 5 to 9 December, and suspects were dealt with according to local legislation. Steven Wilson, head of EC3, Europol's European Cyber-crime Centre said that, “one of the key priorities of law enforcement should be to engage with these young people to prevent them from pursuing a criminal path, helping them understand how they can use their skills for a more constructive purpose. “
The success of the crackdown signifies a prevention campaign by Europol in trying to turn young adults away from a criminal route in pursuing their interest in security or computers.
Hacking seems to be a disproportionately popular vice among younger people. In 2015, the UK's National Crime Agency said that the average age of suspected hackers in the UK was merely 17.
Stephen Gates, chief research intelligence analyst at NSFOCUS told SC Media UK that people need look no further than their own youth: “Everyone was looking for the one thing that would make them popular, or maybe even famous. Hacking others successfully, certainly helps those who are working for notoriety's sake. Unfortunately, hacking at such a young age will likely destine these youths to a life of crime.”
Mark James, IT security specialist at ESET: put it slightly differently: “If your roots are firmly planted in the world of IT and you want to expand that gathered knowledge of IT systems and security often the perceived starting route is ‘DIY'.
A job at a big IT firm might not be forthcoming, so how does one learn those skills: “Deciding the best way to better your skills will be a difficult decision and may also be influenced by others and their appreciation of your skills; after all, we thrive on gratification and personal achievements.” Hackforums and the community of illicit ‘security research' can often provide that for young neophytes.
There is of course, the security blanket effect of the computer, added James: “doing bad things in the comfort of our own home does lead to a false sense of security. It's easy to assume you can be anonymous just because a programme tells you it is there to keep your identity hidden, true anonymity is a lot harder to attain in the digital universe.”