Sunday, 10 February 2013

Credibility and kiddie hackers

I can’t be the only person who wasn’t completely surprised by the news that, according to IT security firm AVG, kids as young as 11 are beginning to write malicious hack code to wreak some havoc and steal some data in the cyber world. We’ve heard plenty about hackers in their mid to late teens, but this fits neatly with the image of delinquent behaviour by junior geeks who are happier staring at a screen than going out in the real world, and is something you could believe of those who would like to but don’t have the nerve to spray graffiti or smash up a bus shelter.

But while the story sounds credible, the evidence seems limited. AVG came up with one solid example, and a lot of talk about patterns that suggest there may be a growing number of kids barely of secondary school age who are up to no good in the cyber world. It’s not clear if it’s a genuine trend or speculation based on a handful of cases.

It’s worth remembering that a story like this can do some good for the company that raises the alarm. It says it is paying attention to serious issues and concerned about the wide world in which it works. That’s why they carry out research and publish studies aimed at asserting their credentials as thought leaders; and when it makes the national news it’s a result for the PR team.

But it has to be remembered that this is all part of the marketing effort, and that the overall aim of such efforts is to boost a company’s sales. It would need a lot of time studying the data, and probably a lot of expertise, for anyone to know if the assertions are correct, and I don’t know whether the evidence behind AVG’s warnings is as strong as it claims. But when something like this comes from the private sector you know there’s a commercial element to it.

It might be a real phenomenon, in which case it’s a genuine worry, but it might be just a storm in a cyber tea cup.

Mark Say's collection of fiction, Perversities of Faith, is available on and Also check out

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