Would you honestly consider that your 11-year-old could be writing malware? I doubt it. Most parents know that our kids could be up to no-good on the odd occasion, but would writing malware ever cross our minds.
Perhaps it should. AVG’s Virus Labs team has discovered evidence that kids as young as 11-year-olds are writing malicious code, often for pranks and what would once have been known as youthful “high-jinks”.
But these “high-jinks” can have a more serious side.
Mostly kids writing malware are doing it to show off to their peers, by demonstrating “hacking” ability. It could be stealing someone’s game logins. This might seem trivial at first, but online gaming accounts are often connected to credit card details to enable in-game purchases, and these may also have virtual currency accounts amounting to hundreds of dollars.
Furthermore, many gamers unfortunately use the same login details for social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, potentially putting the victim at risk of cyber-bullying, in addition to identity theft and major inconvenience.
We have found examples of young children writing malware, including an 11-year-old from Canada. The code usually takes the form of a basic Trojan written using the .NET framework, which is easy to learn for beginners and simple to deploy via a link in an email or posted on a social media page.
Should we be surprised that young children are writing malware? Probably not. Kids are getting far more sophisticated in their technical development, particularly as most schools and homes now have PCs with internet connections. AVG’s Digital Diaries studies have pointed to kids of all ages becoming technically savvy at ages earlier than we expected, but while writing malware is surprising, technically the code, while harmful, is not that sophisticated.
Unlike fully fledged cyber criminals, we don’t believe these junior programmers are motivated by making money but more likely the thrill of outwitting their peers and the admiration of their friends.
Nevertheless it’s a disturbing and increasing trend and it would be logical to assume that at least some of these kids will be tempted to experiment with attempting much more serious cyber-crimes as they grow up.
Today’s kids are often more computer savvy than their parents, but this shouldn’t mean that parents turn a blind eye to what their children are doing on their computers. We recommend that parents take an active interest in what their children are doing on their computers and learn more about the applications their kids are using and creating.
The news however is not all bad. Watch this TED Talks video by Mitch Resnick, who advocates the benefits of teaching children how to write new technology and coding. This gives a different perspective on the value of children coding new programmes.
You can find out more about this story and other cybercrime trends in AVG Q4 threat report, which you can download in full from the AVG Media Center.