back to article Is your child a hacker? Liverpudlian parents get warning signs checklist

Hot on the heels of Liverpool being awarded the European Capital of Culture for 2008 comes a charity programme, run by YouthFed, titled Hackers to Heroes. The programme, which encourages youngsters to develop useful computer skills, is also informing parents of the signs they may encounter if their children are on the path to …

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  1. Ogi

    Being a criminal has little to do with the list as given.

    Simply because all those things listed can also indicate someone who is gifted with computers.

    The difference is to do with intent. Just like a hammer can be used to drive in a nail, or crack someone's skull. In such cases "Shows proficiency and to use a hammer and an interest in using it" does not mean you have a killer/criminal in your midst.

    I find the list particularly concerning, because if I was a kid nowadays, I would fit most of that profile. That would have been grounds for an "intervention" to put me back on "the right path", and I would not have the skills and abilities now which allow me to earn a decent living.

    My hacking around my PC, learning the ins and outs, reading sites online and generally socialising with (very smart, usually older) people on IRC taught me magnitudes more than any IT or CompSci course I have ever taken in a UK institution. Especially in school, where my exposure to this source of information allowed me to improve myself beyond what the courses in school taught me and beyond my peers in ability. Most of my abilities were self-taught, and these kinds of recommendations will stunt development of future generations at best, and result in kids getting into serious trouble because of misconstrued intent (OMG you got TOR installed, hacker! ) in the worst case.

    I fully expect if this advice got rolled out and enforced, in a generation or so those people in government will be sitting around and scratching their heads, wondering why the UK population seems to completely lack "cybersecurity experts" while other countries run rings around a populace generally ignorant of how computers work.

    And I like how TOR is described as solely a tool for illicit activities, because there is no legitimate reason to have TOR installed in the UK, especially after recent legislation to do with snooping, eh?

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Being a criminal has little to do with the list as given.

      I think many kids who had a home computer in the 80s would be carted off for re-education if this were in place.

      1. b0llchit
        FAIL

        Re: Being a criminal has little to do with the list as given.

        Guilty as charged. Please, lock me up. I cannot live with myself anymore, being a full fledged terminology-list offender.

      2. d3vy Silver badge

        Re: Being a criminal has little to do with the list as given.

        "I think many kids who had a home computer in the 80s would be carted off for re-education if this were in place."

        I racked up a £180 a month bill fannying about on irc until 5am through my teens.

        Looking back money well spent, it was cheaper than UNI and I get paid a decent whack for doing something that I don't even consider to be work.

      3. Lotaresco Silver badge

        Re: Being a criminal has little to do with the list as given.

        "I think many kids who had a home computer in the 80s would be carted off for re-education if this were in place."

        Everyone I know who learned their trade in the 80s and who now works in the computer industry would be languishing in chains. I should be safe, it's not as if Lotaresco is a weird nym.

    2. macjules Silver badge

      Re: Being a criminal has little to do with the list as given.

      That checklist covers a neat profile of around 99% of children in the UK, always leaving the 1% possibility that some children only use 1 social media network or do not know about their parents' browsing habits.

      Unfortunately the scope of the NCA 'guidelines' also covers just about every El Reg reader. Perhaps the NCA should extend their notes to 50-somethings with receding hairlines, who enjoy Margaux, reading the misfortunes of GDS and the occasional hour of playing Skyrim for the umpteenth time.

      1. analyzer

        Re: Being a criminal has little to do with the list as given.

        Unfortunately the scope of the NCA 'guidelines' also covers just about every El Reg reader. Perhaps the NCA should extend their notes to 50-somethings with receding hairlines, who enjoy Margaux, reading the misfortunes of GDS and the occasional hour of playing Skyrim for the umpteenth time.

        Ha, your on your own there, I don't have a receding hairline :-P

        yet ...

        1. Sampler

          Re: Being a criminal has little to do with the list as given.

          Unfortunately the scope of the NCA 'guidelines' also covers just about every El Reg reader. Perhaps the NCA should extend their notes to 50-somethings with receding hairlines, who enjoy Margaux, reading the misfortunes of GDS and the occasional hour of playing Skyrim for the umpteenth time.

          Ha, your on your own there, I don't have a receding hairline :-P

          yet ...

          It's not receding when there's none left...

          (in my case)

      2. veti Silver badge

        Re: Being a criminal has little to do with the list as given.

        It says "has multiple social media profiles on one platform".

        I'm fine with ridiculing the advice, but at least ridicule what it actually says, not what you hallucinate it to say.

        1. P. Lee Silver badge

          Re: Being a criminal has little to do with the list as given.

          >It says "has multiple social media profiles on one platform".

          >I'm fine with ridiculing the advice, but at least ridicule what it actually says, not what you hallucinate it to say.

          Most of the kids I know do this - one public profile (maybe for school too), one for close friends.

          It's much easier the managing the ever-changing privacy settings social media companies play with.

          I create email addresses for almost every organisation I talk to. Then I can track their data sharing.

          1. Jos V

            Re: Being a criminal has little to do with the list as given.

            P. Lee. Just as a helper here (side topic), most sites accept when you enter your email as <yourMail+siteName@domain.com>

            Using the + there to add the site you're filling the email box on. This way, any emails you receive through their sharing of it will contain the culprit.

            Just saying...

            1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

              Re: sidetopic

              really? does yahoo do that?

              so if my address is billybob@yahoo.co.uk

              and I use

              billybob+tescoshopping@yahoo.co.uk

              that will work?

              I dont need my own server or domain name?

              1. John H Woods Silver badge

                Re: sidetopic

                "billybob+tescoshopping@yahoo.co.uk

                that will work?"

                It's supposed* to work but some webforms incorrectly filter out + as an unacceptable character. It works fairly widely though. And I'm pleased to say the only time I have ever received email to myname+elreg@mymail.com is from El Reg themselves.

                * RFC 5233

                1. Jos V

                  Re: sidetopic

                  Oh well, vote me down. Guess a side topic like this makes me a hacker too. Arrest me!

                  (Does it help when I say I spent a lot of time focused on the ZX81 as my first real computery thingy?)

                  I'm off to program snakes now.

              2. Dan 55 Silver badge

                Re: sidetopic

                Yahoo allows you to set up disposable addresses in mail options, you set up a base address (different to your real address) and then every allowable suffix. The separator between base and suffix is a -. Probably one of the few things they've done right.

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: sidetopic

                  Dan 55@,

                  Very useful for tracking where addresses have been 'harvested' from, on all the junk e-mail you get !!!

                  I also use these addresses for all sites/etc that require e-mail addresses, as above is a good way to track who is giving your address away via 'bad' security or otherwise !!! :)

                  One of the primary reasons I still use Yahoo ...... but getting hard to justify the more you hear.

                  Question: Who is a good provider of e-mail (not via web) ?

                  (My ISP mail is awful, slow and flaky, so that is out of the question !!!)

        2. Lotaresco Silver badge

          Re: Being a criminal has little to do with the list as given.

          "It says "has multiple social media profiles on one platform"."

          Doesn't everyone do that?

    3. ShelLuser

      @Ogi

      True that, but you know in these modern times it's so much easier to follow these steps from a list than to actually talk with your children to see what they're usually up to. For some reason this reminds me of an episode of South Park :)

    4. Thomas_Kent

      TOR hell,

      just run TAILS on a thumb drive!

    5. streaky Silver badge

      Re: Being a criminal has little to do with the list as given.

      The most competent whitehats were blackhats first. The end.

      My thing is what exactly is it parents are going to do to stop this? You've identified your kid is a "hacker". Great. Now what? When I was a kid back in the heady days of dialup my parents thought they could stop me using computers and the internet; and they were extremely wrong - I write software for a living now what's the problem?

      The key here isn't teaching kids not to be hackers it's about ensuring they can tell the difference between right and wrong, and I still contend we do need blackhats even for those who can't be taught that - there's no uni courses that teach the competences blackhats acquire from being down in (and causing) the shit, and there never will be.

      1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        Re: Being a criminal has little to do with the list as given.

        re multiple spluttering objections of:

        "but that was me and im nice and have good white hat skillz"

        uh , yeah - thats because a lot of the stuff we did in the 80s and 90s *would* be unacceptable today.

        Parents will just have to use their own judgement , see how many boxes are ticked , maybe see how open the kid is to explaining / monitoring . etc.

        I'd like to see someone suggest how you do tell if your kids a hacker if you're all so hung up on the hacker ethics of freedom of information / access / software whatever that you consider all signs "nothing to worry about"

        Is it when the NSA kicks the door in? or are you going to say "no no, little johnny is just curious , and all those credit card numbers he collected was just an academic exercise - he was showing the flaws inherent in the system ..."

        </devilsadvocate>

        1. DropBear Silver badge

          Re: Being a criminal has little to do with the list as given.

          "uh , yeah - thats because a lot of the stuff we did in the 80s and 90s *would* be unacceptable today."

          Bullshit.

          1. not.known@this.address Bronze badge

            Re: Being a criminal has little to do with the list as given.

            No, really - just try telling one of the many jokes that were so popular in the 80's. Not just the really offensive ones but the ones where nobody with half a functioning braincell would believe they were true, but that would now fall foul of some politically correct insanity that suggests people from <insert name of country here> really all are as stupid as the joke suggests.

            Name-calling, toy guns, going for long walks in the countryside, driving long distances without "a good reason" other than the sheer fun of driving, visiting airliner cockpits, plane-spotting from less than several miles away...

          2. Lotaresco Silver badge

            Re: Being a criminal has little to do with the list as given.

            "uh , yeah - thats because a lot of the stuff we did in the 80s and 90s *would* be unacceptable today."

            "Bullshit."

            Oh I dunno, watching Rolf Harris, Gary Glitter, Jimmy Saville and Dave Lee Travis on "Top of the Pops" is pretty much unacceptable today.

        2. streaky Silver badge

          Re: Being a criminal has little to do with the list as given.

          Is it when the NSA kicks the door in?

          I'd tell them they're in the wrong country and to do one.

          If it was the NCA or local po-po I'd tell them what they told my sister when her abusive ex found his way into her iTunes account and changed the password and added his own email address as a recovery address with proof who did it (not like according to the CMA this should result in multiple years in prison or anything) - there's nothing they can do.

          On a more serious note - as somebody who's been a kid in the past - the point is this article is completely useless to its stated goal. These things are not there to be discovered by the incompetent - if you read this article and it's your only point of reference; you're in no position to judge if your kid is a hacker any more than you're in a position to judge if somebody has an aortic dissection from watching house episodes.

          This stuff inevitably has negative consequences. Little Jimmy is a hacker because he likes computers and struggles to make IRL friends but belongs to a community of <insert game> players who accept him for who he is. Little Jimmy should be on restricted computer time so little Jimmy can't do whatever he's doing that's going to end with him getting gainful employment in tech fields over and above his peers who are all getting drunk in the local park and smoking weed. We can talk about it because we've been exactly here - and for the record if you think modern systems are more of a risky target than older systems you might be out of you mind - the only difference is there's more of them. I remember when credit cards didn't even have security codes printed on the back.

    6. slashdotdotorg

      Re: Being a criminal has little to do with the list as given.

      as soon as they are born, put a laptop in their hands, preferably a linux box, a can of copenhagen, a pack of smokes and a coors light is optional. introduce them to the real world.

    7. IT_Pro

      Re: Being a criminal has little to do with the list as given.

      1) They spend most of their free time alone with their computer

      -) This is equally likely to be the result of abuse or bullying, you should punish them for that

      2) They have few real friends, but talk extensively to online friends about computers

      -) They have lost faith and trust in people, restore faith by accusing them of hacking

      3) Teachers say the child has a keen interest in computers, almost to the exclusion of all other subjects

      -) This is definitely a reason to punish them, of course loosing interest in *all* subjects would be fine

      4) They’re online so much it affects their sleeping habits

      -) This could be a result of drug use but we will ignore that and find a better deficit model

      5) They use the language of hacking, with terms such as ‘DdoS’ (pronounced D-dos), Dossing, pwnd, Doxing, Bots, Botnets, Cracking, Hash (refers to a type of encryption rather than cannabis), Keylogger, Lulz, Phishing, Spoof or Spoofing. Members of the Anonymous Hackivist group refer to their attacks as ‘Ops’

      -) It's called vocabulary, more intelligent people have a wider vocabulary, it's time for that paternity test

      6) They refer to themselves and their friends as hackers or script kiddies

      -) What if they're a white-hat? Should we also put all the police in prison because they have more association with criminals

      7) They have multiple social media profiles on one platform

      -) This is practically *all* children over 12

      8) They have multiple email addresses

      -) I do to and I didn't even realize that I am a hacker

      9) They have an odd sounding nickname (famous ones include MafiaBoy and CyberZeist)

      -) How dare children express individuality

      10) Their computer has a web browser called ToR (The Onion Router) which is used to access hacking forums on the dark web

      --) TOR has just as many legitimate uses, better arrest the parents for having knives in the kitchen draw

      11) Monitoring tools you’ve put on the computer might suddenly stop working

      --) You've been *levelled up*, looks like there is going to be a big surprise then the paternity test gets back

      12) They can connect to the wifi of nearby houses (especially concerning if they have no legitimate reason to have the password)

      --) Or there was simply no password to start with

      13) They claim to be making money from online computer games (many hackers get started by trying to break computer games in order to exploit flaws in the game. They will then sell these ‘cheats’ online).

      --) Perhaps they're dealing drugs, nah couldn't be

      14) They might know more than they should about parents and siblings, not being able to resist hacking your email or social media

      --) Intelligent people are also very observant, they're probably trying to work out who their real dad is

      15) Your internet connection slows or goes off, as their hacker rivals try to take them down

      --) Or is just one of those normal technical problems that happen from time to time, It's pronounced para|noia

      16) Some circumstantial evidence suggests children with Autism and Asperger’s could be more vulnerable to becoming hackers.

      --) How dare you take the conditions like these and use peoples personal biases as a tool to draw a negative association to these conditions, that's just plain sick (in a bad way)

      By the way, I am a technologist so I probably have a fairly good idea.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    All I can think of is Cake.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xbq3kc29Tmg

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: All I can think of is Cake.

      All I can think of is walking in on my son looking like the boy in the picture. That picture is amazing! But seriously, if your 8 year kid can get you out of a mortgage bill or 2, well... I guess I should buy him some dark hoodies.

      "How's the mortgage coming son?" ... "I told you I'll do it later dad...GEESH!!"

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Holistic approach to...

    ... what a stuck up asshole.

    I fit all of these criteria and all I am is a twitter shitposter, not a hacker... I must've taken a wrong turn somewhere.

  4. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Childcatcher

    I like the list of warning signs given!

    "Parents, is your child using Hash, when in your days they used hash?"

    Next they'll be warning about the dangers of listening to rock n' roll and watching Elvis Presley dancing.

    1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      Re: I like the list of warning signs given!

      Computer games don't affect kids, I mean if Pac-Man affected us as kids, we'd all be running around in darkened rooms, munching pills and listening to repetitive music.

      1. Marketing Hack Silver badge
        IT Angle

        Re: I like the list of warning signs given!

        You've just described about a quarter of the software devs I know!

      2. Jedit
        FAIL

        "Computer games don't affect kids..."

        It's considered polite to attribute your quotes. That one is from Marcus Brigstocke, if memory serves.

        1. Lotaresco Silver badge

          Re: "Computer games don't affect kids..."

          "It's considered polite to attribute your quotes. That one is from Marcus Brigstocke, if memory serves."

          Unless you are quoting Marcus Brigstocke who's so far up himself that he doesn't deserve acknowledgement.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I like the list of warning signs given!

        wait... you people don't usually running around in darkened rooms, munching pills and listening to repetitive music when you're a kid?

      4. Mahhn

        Re: I like the list of warning signs given!

        That's called a Rave....

    2. DropBear Silver badge

      Re: I like the list of warning signs given!

      "...and if he's using MD5 in a security context, give him a good spanking for not using a proper one."

    3. rochefoucauld
      Childcatcher

      Re: I like the list of warning signs given!

      The newspaper thinkpieces/hot takes about Why The Kids These Days Are Bad And Wrong, Not Like Me And My Mates Back In The Day now bemoan the fact that young people are drinking/smoking/having sex far far *less* than any other previous generation for which records were kept (probably because they're all in their bedrooms, hacking away... ). A case of damned if you do, damned if you don't for sure.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wow...

    That list was definitely written by someone that just read the Which? Guide to Hacking or has skimmed the comments section of a youtube video.

    That list actually describes the average CoD player.

    It's not cool to stereotype though.

    Anyway I'm off to help some noobs get rekt in CoD and eat some reeses puffs. 420 blaze it etc.

    *snoop dog, pot leaf, doritos and air horn gifs here*

    Illuminati confirmed. Etc.

    It's time to stop!

    *does the dab and walks off as his shades slide down thin air onto his face*

  6. MrJim
    Trollface

    Is your son a computer hacker?

    http://www.adequacy.org/stories/2001.12.2.42056.2147.html

    Is your son obsessed with "Lunix"?

    BSD, Lunix, Debian and Mandrake are all versions of an illegal hacker operation system, invented by a Soviet computer hacker named Linyos Torovoltos, before the Russians lost the Cold War. It is based on a program called " xenix", which was written by Microsoft for the US government.

    1. Florida1920 Silver badge

      Re: http://www.adequacy.org/stories/2001.12.2.42056.2147.html

      Love the links!

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This was a joke...

    ...16 years ago.

    http://www.adequacy.org/stories/2001.12.2.42056.2147.html

    1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      Re: This was a joke...

      that is funny! only looked for 10 secs and saw:

      does your son use quake?

      "The hacker Crackdown" is a hacking manual

      "Flash" is hacking software

      ad infinitum

  8. Drefsab_UK

    hmm sounds like me

    This sounds very much like me as a boy growing up near Liverpool, but instead of being some criminal I was interested in computers, networking, being a sys admin and cyber security. This interest led into a productive career where I regularly work with financial institutions, if I had somehow been suspected of being a hacker and put on some watch list or pulled up to explain things that people did not understand I may have chosen a different career path.

    Half this list describes almost all teens going, the other half describes someone who understands the internet and how it works. So therefore surely you must distrust those people. You dont want people knowing about cybersecurity in this day and age. The more suspicious of us might think thats exactly what some people would want, discourage anyone knowing about security and privacy.

    1. Baldy50

      Re: hmm sounds like me

      Can't believe the guys last name! Writing a piece about Liverpudlians, cos although born on the outskirts of the city, but living in Warrington I know the nickname they called us! Is Dicky Lewis still there?

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lewis%27s#/media/File:Lewis%27_Liverpool_1.jpg

  9. chivo243 Silver badge
    Facepalm

    If...

    Monitoring tools you’ve put on the computer might suddenly stop working?

    would it be, the pot calling the kettle black?

    Please, quit using the computer as a parenting tool(ie discipline)

  10. rcorrect

    This isn't a list to describe Facebook users?

    1. hplasm Silver badge
      Meh

      Re:This isn't a list to describe Facebook users?

      No.

      That would say:-

      Has your child:

      A vacuous expression on their face?

      Walked into objects, or into the road whilst on their phone?

      Ignored people talking to them, rather than txting them?

      Become rather stupid?

      and so on...

  11. DNTP Silver badge

    I'd like to thank my parents

    for encouraging the sorts of independent learning that this newest guide seems to be discouraging, for supporting my interests leading to a career even if they didn't always understand what I wanted to do, and for not putting up with this kind of "warning signs of X" bullshit.

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