Cybercrime: preventing young people from getting involved

More and more teenagers and young people are getting involved in cybercrime. Many do it for fun without realising the consequences of their actions – but the penalties can be severe.

Cybercrime isn’t a victimless crime – it is a serious criminal offence and the National Crime Agency (NCA) and police take cybercrime extremely seriously.

The NCA has launched a #CyberChoices campaign aimed at educating the parents of 12-15 year old boys, whose children may be involved in hacking or other kinds of cybercrime without their parents’ knowledge, through a short film.  The information below highlights the type of illegal online activity children can become involved in, how parents can spot signs of potential problems, understand what the consequences could be, and to emphasise better ways for young people to use their skills and interest in technology.

What is cybercrime?

In this context, cybercrime means any crime committed using a computer, computer networks or other form of information communications technology (ICT).

Examples of cybercrime include:

  • Hacking – this involves gaining access into someone’s computer network without their permission, and then taking control and/or taking  information from other people’s computers. Examples may include accessing the  secure area on the school’s computer network and looking for test paper answers or trying to change test scores.
  • Making, supplying or obtaining malware (malicious software), viruses, spyware, botnets and Remote Access Trojans is illegal. These programmes allow criminals to get into other people’s computers to carry out illegal activities. ‘Pranking’, by remotely accessing a friends computer when they don’t know you are doing it and messing around is still illegal.
  • Carrying out a DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack or ‘booting’ A DDoS is when a  website is attacked by sending it lots of internet traffic. This means anyone who wants to visit that site won’t be able to access it. Booting someone offline whilst playing online games may seem like a harmless joke, but is still illegal.


Cybercrime  is a serious criminal offence under the Computer Misuse Act.(add link) . The National Crime Agency and police take cyber crime extremely seriously and will make every effort to identify and prosecute offenders.

Young people getting involved with cybercrime could face:

  • A visit and warning from police or NCA officers
  • Being arrested
  • Their computers being seized and being prevented from accessing the internet
  • A penalty or fine
  • Up to 10 years in prison for serious offences
  • A permanent criminal record could affect education and future career prospects, as well as potential future overseas travel

Warning signs of cybercrime

The following behaviors may indicate a young person is at risk of getting involved in cyber crime:

  • Is your child spending all of his/her time online?
  • Are they interested in coding? Do they have independent learning material on computing?
  • Do they have irregular sleeping patterns?
  • Do they get an income from their online activities, do you know why and how?
  • Are they resistant when asked what they do online?
  • Do they use the full data allowance on the home broadband?
  • Have they become more socially isolated?

If a young person is showing some of these sign,s try and have a conversation with them about their online activities. This will allow you to assess their computer knowledge proficiency so you can understand what they are doing, explain the consequences of cybercrime and help them make the right choices. Of course, any of the above can have a perfectly innocent motive.

Ways to use cyber skills positively

Skills in coding, gaming, computer programming, cyber security or anything IT-related are in high demand and there are many careers and opportunities available to anyone with an interest in these areas.

Teachers and schools careers advisers should be able to advise on ways to develop cyber skills.

There are also a number of organisations to help young people develop cyber skills:

Cyber Security Challenge –  a series of national competitions, learning programmes and networking in coding and programming.

Inspired Careers – a virtual hub providing information on job and career paths in cyber security.

CREST is a not-for-profit organisation that provides exams and qualifications for cyber security professionals and also accredits companies delivering specialist advice and services to help protect businesses and government organisations from cyber attacks.

Want to know what it would be like to work in Cybersecurity? Click here to see some short videos with Cyber Professionals talking about their day.

UKIE Three video game ambassadors share their experiences of working in the games industry

Hear Charlie Hasdell, Creative Director of the competitive music video game Singstar, talk about what it takes to succeed in the gaming industry.

The Tech Partnership have links on tech apprenticeships here:

Also search for national and local code academies and clubs within your area.

Tony Neate, CEO of Get Safe Online, said: “Young people are becoming more and more tech- savvy and it’s great to see them embrace the brilliant opportunities the online world offers, and enhance their skills in areas like coding, gaming and computer programming. However, it’s important to know the balance between your child having a natural passion for technology and surfing online, to spotting that they may in fact be getting involved in cyber-crime themselves.”

He continued: “Of course as a parent, it’s impossible to know what’s going on in your child’s life every second of the day, but there are warning signs to look out for. This is why we’re fully behind the NCA’s #CyberChoices campaign, working to educate parents whose children may be involved in hacking or other online criminal activity so they can spot the signs of potential problems early on, and ultimately be in a position to have an open and honest dialogue with their children about the risks and consequences of cybercrime.”


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