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Young hackers to be lured into legitimate employment with Government scheme

A new scheme has been launched which is designed to help would-be teen hackers use their skills in legal employment instead, with the backing of the National Crime Agency (NCA) and the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC).

Young people referred to Cyber Choices will be assessed by a panel composed of members of the police, local councils and the NHS.

Following this, they may be given support for housing, mental health and social skills, as well as access to an online portal where they can test their coding skills and engage with potential employers.

Schools and social services can refer children to the project, while the police will approach youngsters who are beginning to commit minor computer misuse offences.

The Metropolitan Police’s head of cybercrime Andrew Gould said that research suggested that more under-15s in the UK have tried hacking than have had sex.

“We think they’re engaged in much safer behaviours, but the risk has just changed,” he warned.

“They’re not being taught about criminal offences, they’re just being taught the technology, so they don’t know the boundaries.”

Police chiefs hope the programme will eventually be rolled out around the country.

Earlier this month, the hacker responsible for the 2015 cyber-attacks on the ISP TalkTalk was sentenced to four years in prison.

Daniel Kelley, who is autistic, leaked the details of more than 150,000 customers. His hacking career started when he was just 16.

Research considered ahead of the Cyber Choices plan included findings in the University College London’s 2018 Millennium Cohort Study, which looked at the prevalence of “risky behaviour” among young people, including committing cyber crime, having underage sex, drinking and taking drugs.

So far, the scale of the cyber crime problem has not been measured, but police bosses describe it as a “growing threat” and fear it could affect thousands of young people.

In its early stages, officers have identified - and are said to be already working with - several hundred young people aged between 13 and 22 in a bid to warn them of the dangers and prevent them from going on to commit a cyber attack, reporters were told.

NCA director of threat Rob Jones said: “We are trying to prevent people being prolific and proficient in cyber crime. We want to put a stop to it before it starts.

“Young people are getting involved in very serious cyber attacks and are engaging in risky behaviour without realising the consequences.

“This is about targeting young people to teach them about the risks. We are just now starting to educate children.

“The typical people at risk of offending could be those involved in online gaming and coding and preventing them from becoming cyber criminals.”

He stressed that officers do not want to deter youngsters from excelling in computer and coding skills, adding: “It’s about diversion and using these skills for good.

Peter Goodman, the chief constable at Derbyshire Constabulary who leads on cyber crime for the NPCC, said isolated youngsters or those with autism could be susceptible.

Describing the profile of possible offenders, he said: “They find life difficult, they have confidence in the internet world.

“They could be on the spectrum. They could be involved in gaming, or cheating at gaming where there is an opportunity to use malware.”

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