Europol last week supported police in a number of countries as they launched a coordinated crackdown on cyber criminals using Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) tools.
The operation, which resulted in 34 people being arrested and a further 101 receiving police cautions, involved law enforcement agencies in Australia, Belgium, France, Hungary, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.
According to a statement from Europol, the majority of those targeted in the week-long campaign were under the age of 20. Different measures were taken against suspects depending on the country they came from, with some facing arrest, a fine or letters being sent home to their parents.
The operation marked the beginning of a campaign intended to raise awareness among young people of the risks involved in becoming embroiled in cyber crime. Europol notes that many young adults get involved in hacking without being conscious of the consequences of their actions, which could include a criminal record that might have a serious impact on their future employment prospects.
The tools required to launch DDoS attacks are widely available on dark web marketplaces, which can be easily accessed through the Tor anonymous browser.
Head of Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) Steven Wilson said: “Today’s generation is closer to technology than ever before, with the potential of exacerbating the threat of cyber crime. Many IT enthusiasts get involved in seemingly low-level fringe cyber crime activities from a young age, unaware of the consequences that such crimes carry.
“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. “
Numerous studies have warned that young people with hacking skills must be encouraged to use their abilities for good. Back in October, Russian internet security firm Kaspersky Labs said that tech-savvy young people are being tempted to exacerbate the problem of cyber crime rather than help prevent it. The company warned the technology industry is failing to set out clear career paths for young hackers, leaving many vulnerable to the pull of criminality.
In the UK, Britain’s National Crime Agency last year launched a campaign to discourage young people from becoming involved in cyber crime after it discovered that the average age of suspects investigated by its National Cyber Crime Unit was just 17. The effort is designed to teach parents and carers how to spot signs that a young person might be mixed up cyber crime, and encourage those who could be vulnerable to becoming offenders to put their skills to better use.