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Boot Camps Designed For Young Cyber Criminals To Divert Them Into Positive Career Choices
Teenagers caught carrying out hacking and cyber-attacks could soon be attending a rehab camp that aims to divert them away from a life of crime.
The first weekend camp for offenders was held in Bristol this month as part of the National Crime Agency's (NCA) work with young computer criminals.
Attendees learned about responsible use of cyber-skills and got advice about careers in computer security. If the trial proves successful, it will be rolled out across the UK.
The people picked to attend the residential weekend were known to police because they had been caught carrying out one or more computer crimes, said Ethan Thomas, an operations officer in the NCA's Prevent team, which engages with young cyber-offenders.
Hundreds of fledgling cyber-criminals have been contacted by the NCA as part of its Prevent work. Some received letters warning them that their online activity had been spotted and some were visited at home by officers.
The seven young men attending the weekend camp had gone further than many the NCA is aware of. They had either been arrested, visited by officers because they were spotted using tools or techniques that break UK computer misuse laws or been cautioned by police because of offences committed at school.
They had been caught defacing websites, knocking servers offline and carrying out hack attacks that let them take over restricted networks.
One attendee said an early fascination with numbers and his accidental "hack" of a primary school network that locked everyone out of the system, got him hooked on computers.
"The weekend was designed to do a few things," said the NCA's Ethan Thomas, "but mostly it was to positively divert those that could be putting their skills to a more positive and legal use."
The two-day residential camp reinforced messages about using technical skills responsibly and called on industry professionals who gave talks about jobs in cyber-security. It had the air of a school trip as in that much of the fun was closely supervised and had an educational bent.
Attendees learned about the different roles computer security staff take on including forensic analysis, network protection and mounting attacks on companies - known as red teaming. They also did coding challenges, took each other on in hacking games and learned about bug bounty schemes. These schemes could mean they would get paid for finding and reporting the loopholes they used to exploit for their own ends.
After the weekend, one attendee said: "Now I know cyber-security exists it sounds like it would be something I really, really want to go into."
Mr Thomas said these pivotal moments in the career of a young person came from different sources - parents, guardians or teachers - but the guidance given demonstrated how effective such an intervention could be.
"The skills are so transferable with this crime type," he said. "If you have good cyber-skills there are many, many qualifications you can take."