Hacker kids a growing concern for RCMP

Forget organized crime or well-financed cyberterrorists – the greatest threat to your network is likely a lone pre-teen holed up in a suburban basement, according to a report from Canada’s top crimefighters.

The report, entitled Hackers: a Canadian police perspective, was written last May by officials at the Criminal Intelligence Program, part of the RCMP’s Criminal Analysis Branch. But it was only posted to its Web site Thursday.

It found that the Canadian hacker community is not only getting much savvier, it’s also getting much younger. “Much to the surprise of most people, the typical network cracker is a 12 to 16-year old boy who found some cracking code on the Internet and decided to try it out,” the report states.

The RCMP says that combination of youth and a high-level of comfort with computing systems make them a particularly dangerous threat to networks. “Unsophisticated or novice hackers are often young and they lack a sense of responsibility. They are unaware of the capabilities of the hacker tools they use, unaware of the implications of their hacking or unconcerned about the consequences of their actions,” the report concluded.

Young hackers are also more likely to launch network attacks than their older, wiser counterparts, the RCMP report says. It cites the case of Mafiaboy, the now 17-year-old Montreal teenager who was convicted of launching distributed DoS (denial of service) attacks that immobilized Internet giants including CNN, eBay, Yahoo Inc., Amazon.com Inc., and ETrade Group Inc. in February 2000, as an example.

The RCMP says these children use chat rooms or other digital meeting forums to find disturbing forms of inspiration. “There is growing evidence to suggest that novice hackers are being counselled by on-line ‘mentors’ whose motivations are unknown to Canadian police at this time,” the report states.

Among the report’s other conclusions:

– From 1997 to 2000, the number of RCMP hacking-related investigations more than doubled. And RCMP investigators have observed an increase in the damage to organizations caused by hacking incidents. RCMP statistics report that 120 files were opened in 1997 and 269 files were opened in 2000 related to the criminal code offences of “unauthorized use of computer” and “mischief in relation to data.”

– Technological crime resources across Canada are overburdened. And as Canada continues to increase its Internet connectivity, the demand for police to investigate hacking and other computer-based criminal activity will also increase.

– Organized criminals are increasing their level of technological sophistication – for example, criminal groups are using the Internet to communicate and to conceal criminal information, to manipulate the stock market, to sell illegal drugs and to conduct illegal gambling activity. The RCMP says it’s only a “matter of time” before they begin to employ hackers to further their goals.

– Despite a lack of strong legal motivation, most Internet service providers (ISPs) are eager to assist with hacker investigations. However, the RCMP says not all ISPs are so eager to cooperate.

The full report is online at http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/crim_int/hackers_e.htm