Online Criminality: A Forgotten Extremism


As internet access has become almost universal in the Western world, cyber security has become a major focus of government, business, and has become a topic familiar to everyday people. Despite the awareness surrounding the issue, cyber security infrastructure has been shown to be lacking in significant systems around the globe. In 2023 alone 141 hospitals in the United States of America were targeted by ransomware attacks, where their systems were held hostage until payment was given to the attackers. Furthermore, in 2021 the Colonial Pipeline in America faced a ransomware attack which saw its operations halted, causing a notable increase in gas prices. With these events happening against significant infrastructure, one would think that the skill required to facilitate such an attack would too be significant. However, this is not the case. In many recent arrests of hackers responsible for major attacks on businesses, the perpetrators have, to the surprise of the public, been children and young adults with little to no formal training in information services (IT). One may ask, how is it possible that young people are being led astray into becoming cyber criminals? The answer lies in the pathways to extremism which are similarly used by groups like cartels and terror groups.

Extremist groups often use the grievances of prospective youth to recruit into their ranks. In the case of cybercrime, these grievances often come in the form of anti-government and anti-corporate beliefs, and social rejection. Young people have been found to not have a distinction between the real world and the online world, leading them to seek companionship through online friends. Cyber criminals often feeling outside of society flock to forums seeking interaction with like-minded people. Those who are IT literate find themselves in hacker forums, where users share programs which allow novice programmers to infiltrate sophisticated security systems. Youth seeking to belong in these communities often are led down a path of increased criminality as they try to prove their credibility as hackers. This dynamic is often seen in street gangs, where dispossessed youth fall down the path of violence and criminality to prove themselves to their new family (their gang).

According to a report by Middlesex University, youth found to be engaging in cyber-attacks had these key traits:

1. Adolescent
2. High IQ
3. Literacy and curiosity in technology
4. An intrinsic pleasure from an increased challenge with higher level hacking activities.

A 2022 study directed by The International Information System Security Certification Consortium found that there was globally, a 3.4 million person gap in the cyber security sector, which has grown since 2021. Illegal hacker arrests have also increased. With proper early intervention and access to education related to IT, individuals like these would serve valuable to both private and public interest in protecting our society from internal and external threats. Cyberwarfare has become a major threat to western democracy, as our adversaries have been accused of attempting to influence elections and attacking military and government installations. According to USAID, young hackers often are motivated by idealism rather than financial gain. We must give youth opportunities to use their skills to benefit our society rather than allow them to fall into criminality.

The rise of youth hackers presents a massive untapped workforce which could be used to bolster the national security of Canada and its allies. Today we face the threat of cyber warfare from state and nonstate actors, our governments must do all that they can to protect our democracies from attacks from those who wish to do harm to our institutions. Giving youth opportunities to use their strengths in cyber security should be the first step taken, as they represent our future, and they should be given a place in it.

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